Dorian Prompts Hurricane Warnings for the Immediate Virginia Coast

The cyclone now has winds of 110 mph and was moving north-northeast at 8 mph. At 2 p.m., the cyclone was located approximately 115 miles south-southwest of Wilmington, N.C., according to the National Hurricane Center.

by Robyn Sidersky and Lee Tolliver, The Virginian-Pilot / September 5, 2019
An electronic billboard warns motorists of the approaching storm along Interstate 64 in preparation for Hurricane Dorian, Thursday, Sept. 5, 2019 in Hampton, Va. AP/Jonathon Gruenke

(TNS) — Dorian was downgraded to a Category 2 status this morning as it trudged its way up the southeast coast.

The cyclone now has winds of 110 mph and was moving north-northeast at 8 mph. At 2 p.m., the cyclone was located approximately 115 miles south-southwest of Wilmington, N.C., according to the National Hurricane Center.

Forecasters expect the storm to turn north-northeast today, with a turn toward the northeast by Thursday night. Then a northeastern motion at a faster forward speed is expected on Friday.

Weather service forecasters in Morehead City this morning were calling for landfall in southeastern North Carolina, with a trek up the Pamlico Sound and through the Outer Banks.

The earliest that tropical storm force winds in excess of 37 mph will arrive in northeastern North Carolina is Thursday afternoon. Hampton Roads should start to see similar conditions overnight.

On the coast, the gusts could get as high as 75 to 85 mph, and for eastern Virginia and inland northeastern North Carolina gusts as high as 55 to 65 mph, the National Weather Service said in its morning briefing.

Hurricane warnings have been issued north to the Virginia-North Carolina border — including the Pamlico and Albemarle Sounds — and along the immediate Virginia Beach and Eastern Shore coast, including the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay.

A tropical storm warning is in effect from the Virginia-North Carolina border up to Chincoteague, including Hampton Roads and the Chesapeake Bay from Smith Point southward. Tropical storm conditions are expected within 36 hours.

In his 1 p.m. briefing Wakefield lead forecaster Jeff Orrock said conditions in Hampton Roads would start to deteriorate starting with Friday morning’s sunrise.

“By tomorrow morning things are going to be getting pretty nasty,” he said. “It’s not going to be a good day for anybody to be out and about.”

He said flooding will start during the morning low tide for all of Zone A.

“We have a low tide around 8:30 in the morning and it’s going to look like a high, high tide at that time,” Orrock said. "So that’s where we’re going to start from as the tide starts rising. High tide is going to line up with the highest winds and the water is going to be coming in fast.

“The good news is this should be a one high tide and done event.”

A storm surge warning is in effect for Hampton Roads, the Pamlico and Albemarle Sounds, the Neuse and Pamlico Rivers and up to Poquoson.

Weather Service forecasters in the Thursday morning conference call were warning of rapid south-side water rises as the storm exits the coast and winds switch to the northwest.

“Water is being pushed to the west of the sounds and into the river systems, but it will rapidly push back to the east as the winds turn,” said Erik Heden at the Morehead City office. “We can’t emphasize that enough.”

Forecasters in Wakefield were calling for 6 to 8 inches of rain from Windsor all the way to the coast, with higher amounts along the Outer Banks. Up to 15 inches could fall in stronger rain bands in northeastern North Carolina.

“We’re looking at that rain falling in a 12-hour window, which makes this a 50- to 100-year rainfall event,” Orrock said.

There is a risk or tornadoes. Outer storm bands already have spawned twisters in South Carolina and a tornado watch has been issued for the Outer Banks.

The Virginia Department of Emergency Management announced Wednesday it did not expect any widespread mandatory evacuations in the state, but a mandatory evacuation of Sandbridge was ordered by Virginia Beach officials Thursday afternoon.

Officials throughout the region advised people to prepare for power outages.

In his Wednesday afternoon briefing, the weather service’s Wakefield lead forecaster voiced concern that people in Hampton Roads weren’t taking this storm seriously.

“We’re still going to feel the impacts, strong tropical storm- to hurricane-force winds, lots of rain and major flooding around Friday’s high tide,” Jeff Orrock said. “Friday is going to be a very bad day.”

Orrock said the eye of Dorian will likely cross northeastern North Carolina on a path from Oregon Inlet to just off Hatteras. He said surf upwards of 15 to 20 feet will hit the coast and destroy sand dunes.

“The beaches are going to take a pounding,” he said. "And the eastern side of Currituck County is going to see lots of high water and really intense winds. If folks don’t take this seriously, there are going to be a lot of issues.

“I mean, when the Navy sends its ships to sea, that should perk some ears.”

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Preparations continue before storm arrives

The Port of Virginia’s status has been updated to be Port Condition Yankee, meaning it is closed to inbound traffic without permission from the Captain of the Port. All affected vessels are encouraged to see an alternative destination. Owners of pleasure craft are advised to see safe harbor and drawbridges may not be operating if sustained winds reach 34 mph or when an evacuation is in progress.

The Captain of the Port intends to set Port Condition Zulu at 4 p.m. on Thursday. That’ll close the entrance to the Chesapeake Bay and the port of Hampton Roads.

At Joint Base Langley-Eustis, base privatized housing and all lodging facilities are required to evacuate to their safe haven location by 5 p.m. Thursday, according to the base. Beginning at 5 p.m., Mission Essential Personnel only will be allowed on base. Ride-out team members are mission essential will receive report times through their chain of command. The Armistead Gate will be the only way to access the installation after 5 p.m.

Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story will implement essential personnel only report for Friday. Gates 5 and 8 will be open 24 hours and gates 1, 3 and 6 will secure Thursday at normal hours and remain closed Friday.

Suffolk declared a state of emergency Wednesday night. Virginia Beach, Portsmouth, Chesapeake, York and Hampton already declared states of emergency.

Portsmouth will open a short-term emergency shelter for residents at I.C. Norcom High School at noon Thursday. The school is located at 1801 London Blvd.

Hampton will open shelters at 5 p.m. Thursday at Phenix School at 1061 Big Bethel Road and Bethel High School at 1067 Big Bethel Rd. Newport News will open a shelter at Warwick High School at 51 Copeland Lane at 5 p.m. as well.

Dominion Energy is preparing for the storm, sending trucks and crews from Alexandria and Herndon.

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