U.S. braces for Irma: Category 5 hurricane aims for Fla.; potential impact for N.C. unknown

NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE

It’s the most powerful Atlantic Ocean storm in recorded history, but will it hit North Carolina?

That’s what officials across the state are asking as Hurricane Irma crashed into Caribbean islands on a path that could take it toward the United States. At 3 p.m. Thursday, the storm continued to track toward south Florida

Gov. Roy Cooper declared a State of Emergency for all 100 counties as the state prepares for almost certain impacts from Hurricane Irma early next week, possibly beginning as soon as Monday.

“There is a lot we still don’t know about this storm, but we do know that North Carolina can expect to feel some sort of effects as soon as early next week, and now is the time to get prepared," Cooper said. "Wherever you live in North Carolina – from the mountains to the piedmont to the coast – you need to take this storm seriously, and you need to start preparing for some type of impact.”

Cooper said the State of Emergency went into effect at 8 a.m. on Thursday in order to facilitate the movement of any resources that may be needed to respond to the storm. It also waives truck weight, size and hours of service restrictions so that vehicles carrying essential supplies such as food, medicine, fuel or transporting livestock or crops can get their jobs done quickly.

Here are four things to know about Hurricane Irma.

1.) ‘POTENTIALLY CATASTROPHIC’

When Irma hit Puerto Rico on Wednesday afternoon, it sustained maximum wind speeds of 185 mph, earning it the status of a Category 5 hurricane.

Only four other Atlantic-region storms have been more powerful than Irma, but those originated in the Caribbean Sea or Gulf of Mexico.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center called Irma “potentially catastrophic" and says it carried life-threatening winds, rains and surges on Wednesday.

Its winds extend 50 miles from its center.

The Dominican Republic, Bahamas, Virgin Islands, Turks and Caicos, Haiti and Cuba could all get dangerous weather by Friday, the center says. The Florida Keys are bracing for Irma’s potential impact as a Category 4 or 5 storm later this weekend.

2.) TOO EARLY TO PREDICT

There was little confidence in predictions of Irma’s path on Thursday. North Carolina Emergency Management says we don’t yet know when or where Irma will turn north.

It’s possible Irma could impact any part of North Carolina, or miss it altogether. If the storm does reach the state, it will be sometime between Monday and Wednesday next week, state officials say.

Anticipating the worst, governors of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina also declared states of emergency.

3.) OFFICIALS URGE PREPARATION

State and local officials are urging residents to make plans now should Irma bear down on North Carolina.

Create an emergency kit and discuss emergency plans, N.C. Emergency Management advices. You can download the free ReadyNC app for more information on planning and to get real-time weather and emergency information.

Kits should include enough water and non-perishable food for each person to live off for up to seven days. Officials also recommend having a weather radio, flashlight, batteries, toiletries, rain gear and spare clothes.

Protect your home by cleaning gutters and trimming lose branches from nearby trees. If you think you’ll need items like boards or lumber, the sooner you buy them the better.

Locate and secure all important documents, AAA advises. Make an inventory of all your items and either bring inside or tie down freestanding outdoor items.

Gas prices in North Carolina jumped 40 cents after Hurricane Harvey, now sitting at an average of $2.63, AAA says. Prices could go up another 5-10 cents this weekend depending on what Irma does.

4.) RESOURCES TO REMAIN IN STATE

All N.C. rescue crews sent to Texas to aid with Hurricane Harvey recovery will return to North Carolina in preparation for Hurricane Irma in case they are needed, Cooper announced.

Other organizations are already preparing. N.C. Department of Transportation crews in every county are reviewing stock of drainage pipes.

North Carolina Emergency Management Director Mike Sprayberry told the AP he spent Wednesday coordinating resources with federal agencies.

In McDowell County, Emergency Services Director William Kehler said that they are looking at previous storm experience to prepare with Irma’s eventual track into Western N.C.

“On Tuesday, our agency began reviewing our emergency operation plan and working on preparedness items. We continue to communicate with our partner agencies and pass along the latest briefings from the National Weather Service,” said Kehler. “On Tuesday we accomplished a number of preparedness objectives such as checking emergency generators, communicating with critical healthcare facilities, and creating staffing plans for EMS and 911 Communications. A large part of the day was also spent reviewing documentation from Hurricane Frances and Ivan in 2004 and ensuring every effort is made during the planning phase to address high risk areas.”

According to Kehler, tropical systems can post multiple hazards for McDowell, including flash flooding, landslides and wind damage.

While a tremendous amount of uncertainty continues to monitor the latest forecasts pertaining to Irma, Kehler stated, “It is our hope that Irma takes an eastward track into the Atlantic and spares WNC of any significant impacts.”

Shawn Taylor of the Statesville Record & Landmark and Dustin Chandler of The McDowell News compiled the information for this story.