Governor: Irma will impact NC; direct hit unlikely, but rain and wind coming

Hollywood police patrol the Florida city's beach walk. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Ricky Carioti.

Ricky Carioti

Even without a direct hit on North Carolina, Hurricane Irma is expected to bring heavy winds and rain to the state beginning Monday and North Carolinians need to be prepared, Gov. Roy Cooper said Saturday.

“We’re continuing to take preparing for this storm seriously, and we’re tracking forecasts closely,” Cooper said. “I’m asking families and businesses across the state to do the same: make sure you’re ready for whatever Irma brings, and stay tuned to your local weather and news.”

Local emergency agencies have been taking precaution for Irma as early as last Tuesday. McDowell County Emergency Services Director William Kehler said his agency has been reviewing preparedness items, communicating with partner agencies, communicating with critical healthcare facilities and reviewing documentation from Hurricanes Frances and Ivan in 2004.

“McDowell EM will continue to coordinate with our local partners, as well as state and federal agencies to ensure we are prepared and ready to respond should Irma impact our area,” said Kehler. “As always with any high impact weather event, our first priority is to protect life and ensure the safety of emergency personnel.”

While the latest forecast continues to indicate a northwestward track for Hurricane Irma, there is still the potential for severe weather across the state. Dangerous surf and rip currents will continue through the next several days along the entire coast. Heavy rain, flash flooding (especially in low-lying areas) and landslides may occur in the mountains. Scattered power outages are possible anywhere across the state Monday and Tuesday.

Any shift in Irma’s track could mean changes in impacts for North Carolina, and state officials are continuing to stay in contact with the National Weather Service and National Hurricane Center.

The State Emergency Operations Center remains activated and operations will continue as long as needed. The North Carolina National Guard will begin staging crews in Charlotte, Greensboro and Asheville on Sunday in preparation to support storm response activities if needed, including debris removal, shelter operations, and delivering and distributing supplies.

State Emergency Management officials are shifting staff from eastern areas to support the western parts of the state and working with hydrologists to identify possible trouble spots for flooding and landslides in mountain counties.

Gov. Cooper also encouraged North Carolinians to be mindful that some gas stations may experience temporary fuel shortages as evacuees from other states refuel here.

“The lines may be a little longer and we ask everyone to be considerate with fuel consumption and take only what you need so that others may have some, too,” he said.

More than five million people across Florida were ordered to evacuate and thousands crammed into shelters on Saturday. Gov. Rick Scott sounded dire warnings about the storm Saturday morning, urging residents in evacuation zones to leave their homes immediately.

"Once the storm starts, law enforcement cannot save you," Scott said at a news conference in Sarasota.

Irma's track shifted late Friday and early Saturday. The eye of the storm was expected to head up the state's west coast, rather than the middle. Naples, Fort Myers and Tampa are now expected to bear the brunt of the storm. But because of the size of the hurricane, Florida's east coast remains in danger, including from storm surges that will easily overwhelm some areas. But before the storm reaches the peninsula, the Florida Keys will experience its full force.

The National Hurricane Center downgraded Irma to a Category 3 storm Saturday, with maximum sustained winds of 125 miles per hour. But the storm was expected to strengthen as it moved away from Cuba and toward the Florida Keys, where it was expected to hit Sunday morning. Irma will move along or near Florida's southwest coast Sunday afternoon.

Regardless of its track, all of Florida will likely experience damaging winds, rains, flooding and possibly tornadoes. The National Weather Service has issued a tornado watch for all of southern Florida and the Florida Keys until midnight Eastern Time.

"This is a deadly storm and our state has never seen anything like it," Scott said.

- Information compiled by Scott Hollifield and Dustin Chandler of The McDowell News, and the Washington Post News Service