Raleigh, N.C. — Gov. Bev Perdue on Friday declared a state of emergency for 40 eastern North Carolina counties in anticipation of Hurricane Sandy’s presence off the coast.
The state of emergency takes effect Saturday for Beaufort, Bertie, Bladen, Brunswick, Camden, Carteret, Chowan, Columbus, Craven, Cumberland, Currituck, Dare, Duplin, Edgecombe, Gates, Greene, Halifax, Harnett, Hertford, Hoke, Hyde, Johnston, Jones, Lenoir, Martin, Nash, New Hanover, Northampton, Onslow, Pamlico, Pasquotank, Pender, Perquimans, Pitt, Robeson, Sampson, Tyrrell, Washington, Wayne and Wilson counties.
“This is a large storm with a lot of energy, and its effects are likely to be felt along our coast and throughout eastern counties,” Perdue said in a statement. “People should not be fooled by the Category 1 status. Folks need to take this storm seriously and be ready.”
The emergency declaration authorizes additional state government resources to assist county and municipal governments in responding to the storm. The governor also activated the State Emergency Operations Center, beginning Saturday morning, to prepare for and respond to the storm.
“This is not your typical hurricane that moves through the state in 12 to 24 hours,” Doug Hoell, state emergency management director, said in a statement. “Folks in eastern North Carolina will likely feel the effects of Hurricane Sandy beginning (Friday night) and continuing through Tuesday.”
The storm's outer edges already were affecting the North Carolina coast Friday, as clouds spread across southeastern counties. Rains were expected to begin later in the day, WRAL meteorologist Elizabeth Gardner said.
"We'll continue to see rain spreading across North Carolina," Gardner said. "It will increase as the weekend wears on."
The National Hurricane Center upgraded tropical storm watches issued Friday morning for the majority of the North Carolina coastline to warnings by Friday evening. The warning was posted from Savannah, Ga., to Duck on the Outer Banks.
The North Carolina Department of Transportation stationed equipment along N.C. Highway 12 on Hatteras Island, which often is inundated when storms pass offshore, and the agency has moved its larger ferries closer to Hatteras in case emergency evacuations are needed this weekend.
Sandy is a Category 1 storm, with sustained winds of 75 mph. As of 5 p.m., it was moving north at 7 mph, about 600 miles south of Raleigh.
WRAL meteorologist Mike Maze said drier air being pulled into the system and strong upper-level winds that were shearing off the tops of Sandy's storm clouds were taking a toll on the system. He predicted it would be downgraded to a tropical storm by Saturday.
"The system is definitely weaker than it was (Thursday)," WRAL Chief Meteorologist Greg Fishel said. "Even though the system has weakened in the tropical sense, it's going to start deriving its energy from different means, and those different means are still going to turn this into a monster on the Eastern Seaboard."
The combination of Sandy coming from the Caribbean, an early winter storm from the west and a blast of arctic air from the north may mirror the infamous October 1991 nor'easter featured in the book and movie "The Perfect Storm," forecasters say.
Fishel and Maze said a weakened Sandy won't diminish its potential to cause flooding and dump snow across the Northeast and Ohio Valley as it moves inland.
The storm will likely speed up and maintain its strength as it nears the Carolina coast late Saturday and Sunday, Gardner said. The system is expected to make landfall in eastern Maryland or Delaware early Tuesday, but the northeast corner of North Carolina is in the forecast fan, as some models have it coming ashore near Norfolk, Va.
"This storm has far-reaching impacts beyond the center of circulation," she said. "We're still looking at some pretty major impacts for us in North Carolina."
The Outer Banks could get up to 7 inches of rain over the weekend and wind gusts up to 50 mph from Sandy, while the southern coast is expected to receive 3-5 inches of rain and see wind gusts up to 40 mph.
Dare County emergency management officials said they weren't ordering any evacuations, but they urged residents to prepare for high winds, heavy rains and flooding.
"We've a fireplace in the house, and we've stocked up on food. We're just looking forward to having some reading time and watching an angry ocean," said Ben Norbom, whose family was visiting from Florida and had rented a house in Nags Head to spend time with friends from Virginia.
Because the storm will move inland north of North Carolina, winds wrapping around the system could produce extensive flooding on the sound side of the state's coast, Gardner said.
"Sound-side flooding with this storm is going to be a major issue," she said. "Winds will be coming actually from the west heading to the east, pushing up that water in the sounds."
Surfers took advantage of churning waters off Wrightsville Beach on Friday, where the day was windy and overcast. The large waves and strong undertow were expected to cause some beach erosion in the area, but New Hanover County officials said they don't foresee any evacuations.
"If you don't know how to surf, today's not the day to be out – not today, not tomorrow, not any time this weekend," surfer Morgan McIntyre said.
"The idea is it's great day for the next two or three days to collect shells and maybe that's about it," said Shannon Slocum, a park ranger for Wrightsville Beach. "Stay out of the water unless you're attached to a surfboard."
Carteret County officials said they plan to open a shelter at 6 p.m. Saturday in Atlantic Elementary School for any residents displaced by Sandy.
Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin advised eastern North Carolina residents to protect their property, take an inventory of belongings and gather important paperwork so claims for any storm damage can be made quickly.
Officials with Duke Energy and Dominion Power, which serves the northeast corner of the state, said they were monitoring the storm's progress and were readying crews for possible power outages.
The Red Cross also was mobilizing volunteers and emergency supplies at offices across the eastern part of the state to assist with any recovery efforts.
Sandy's track shifted a bit east on Friday, which Fishel said could mean less rain in the Triangle.
"Here in Raleigh, it actually looks quieter, at least for the next two days," he said, adding a caveat that even a minor shift in the storm could radically change the amount of rain forecast across eastern North Carolina.
Maze said the Triangle has a greater chance of seeing rain on Saturday than on Sunday, and temperatures will remain in the 60s for most of the weekend. The system could bring colder weather across the region by Tuesday, he said.