Evacuations have already been ordered in some parts of North Carolina. In Dare County, where a state of emergency has been issued, a mandatory evacuation for all visitors begins Tuesday at noon and at 6 a.m. Wednesday for all residents.
(TNS) - Gov. Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency Monday as Hampton Roads braced for a storm that experts say could bring punishing winds, coastal flooding and several inches of rain to the region on Thursday and early Friday.
Though the forecast could still significantly change by the end of the week, the Category 4 Hurricane Dorian is expected to continue north, churning along just off the U.S. East Coast. Officials are telling residents to review evacuation plans, stock up on supplies and continue to monitor the storm’s path as the chance for “direct impacts” increases.
"I encourage Virginians to take all necessary precautions to make sure they are prepared as well,” Northam said in a statement.
The region could see about five inches of rain, coastal flooding, beach erosion, high surf and winds of 40 mph, with gusts up to 50 mph, Mike Rusnak, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s office in Wakefield, said on Monday. Due to the tropical storm force winds, he said he expects a “good deal of power outages” in coastal Virginia.
“Obviously the size and speed of it are a significant concern," said Erin Sutton, director of Virginia Beach’s emergency management office. "We’ll be monitoring it closely.”
Evacuations have already been ordered in some parts of North Carolina, which should expect a couple more inches of rain. In Dare County, where a state of emergency has been issued, a mandatory evacuation for all visitors begins Tuesday at noon and at 6 a.m. Wednesday for all residents.
Rusnak said Hampton Roads could see minimal storm surge later this week, though it is still too early to put a number on how much.
Cities throughout Hampton Roads have already started preparing.
On Labor Day, the threat from the storm drew employees back into work to start preparations, including many staffers in public works, public utilities and public safety departments, said Sutton, who was driving back from Maryland. At this point, Virginia Beach is conducting its routine pre-storm work, such as checking lake levels, storm pumps and sewer stations.
“Today is checking in and taking a look at everything. Tomorrow we’re meeting at our (office) and reassessing our forecast," Sutton said. "Obviously there is still a tremendous amount of uncertainty in this.”
Norfolk was doing much of the same work, like clearing ditches and storm pipes, said Jim Redick, the city’s director of emergency preparedness and response, after he got off a conference call with the Virginia Department of Emergency Management around noon Monday. With the unexpected damage from the 2016 Hurricane Matthew storm still fresh for the region, he said the city will continue to plan for Dorian’s worst-case scenario.
"We're going to plan and prepare for that," he said. "We're not going to let our guard down because of the track."
He encouraged residents to stay informed and register for the city’s alert system, which will provide severe weather updates.
Officials from Peninsula localities said they monitored the storm's progress over the weekend. Gail Whittaker, a spokesperson for York County, said the county has been sharing information from the National Weather Service with employees that are called to respond to storms that threaten the area.
In Newport News, city staff involved in storm preparation and response will meet at the city's emergency operation center Tuesday and "will start making preparations as necessary based on the forecast," said city spokesperson Kim Lee. Lee said the city also advises residents to watch forecasts and review emergency plans and supplies.
To coordinate with local, state and federal officials, the Virginia Emergency Operations Center was activated 8 a.m. Monday morning, Northam said in a statement.
Some on the Peninsula have started to stock up.
At the Grafton Ace Hardware in York, an employee said the store has had a busy Labor Day and started seeing people buy generators over the weekend, along with other common hurricane preparation items, such as water. The Ace Hardware staff in central Newport News said they hadn’t seen much of a rush yet, although they noticed customers stocking up on batteries.
With the storm still several days away from the region, a lot could change by the time it approaches coastal Virginia.
“It’s going to vary depending on the exact track,” Rusnak said “We’re looking at tropical storm force winds to overspread southeastern Virginia.”
In its Tuesday 5 a.m. update, the National Hurricane Center had Dorian as a Category 3 storm with winds of 120 mph located just to the north of Freeport on Grand Bahama. It was stationary and expected to start moving to the west-northwest later in the day. Sections of the Florida east coast were already experiencing tropical storm force winds.
The current forecast shows coastal areas of Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina starting to feel the storm’s impacts beginning on Wednesday and continuing throughout the week. Governors in those three states have already declared states of emergency ahead of the storm advancing north. Mandatory evacuations in South Carolina’s and Georgia’s coastal counties started at noon Monday.
Because of Hurricane Dorian, the Ocracoke Express passenger ferry will end service for the season at the end of Monday, three days early, wrote the North Carolina Department of Transportation’s Ferry Division on Twitter. On Ocracoke Island, visitors have been told to evacuate by 5 a.m. today. The final ferries will depart from the island on Wednesday: at 1 p.m. to Cedar Island, at 2 p.m. for Hatteras and at 3:45 p.m. for Swan Quarter.
As of Monday evening, the official forecast does not show the hurricane making landfall in the U.S., staying just offshore as it makes its way up the coast. When it approaches Hampton Roads on Thursday, it could be “skirting the Outer Banks,” Rusnak said.
“Be aware. Keep looking at the media," Rusnak said. "Keep updating with the forecast.”
Forecasters at the hurricane center were also monitoring two other tropical disturbances, one in the Gulf of Mexico and the other just to the west of the Cape Verde Islands in the eastern Atlantic. Both are expected to become named storms.
Staff writers Lee Tolliver and Josh Reyes contributed to this report.
Peter Coutu, 757-222-5124, firstname.lastname@example.org
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