Hurricane Sandy battered a 400-mile-wide swath of North Carolina on Monday, sending huge waves and tidal flooding ashore on the Outer Banks and causing accumulating snowfall in the western mountains.
Off the Outer Banks, a 180-foot three-masted ship sank after encountering trouble in rough seas. Two of 16 people in the crew are missing after being swept overboard, the Coast Guard says.
Utility crews say they have repaired damages on the Outer Banks and now are awaiting the storm’s impact in the mountains. They also are expecting deployment in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast states, to help repair what is expected to be staggering damage in those areas.
A wide array of warnings and advisories are posted for the Tar Heel State, including a Wind Advisory for Charlotte and much of the Piedmont.
A High Wind Warning is posted in higher elevations to the northwest of Charlotte, including all or parts of Watauga, Avery, Burke, Caldwell, McDowell and Rutherford counties. Forecasters warn gusts of 60 to 70 mph are possible Monday and early Tuesday in that area, and they say widespread power outages are likely.
And a Winter Storm Warning is in effect for the northwest mountains, where 8 inches or more of snow could fall by late Tuesday.
At midday Monday, Hurricane Sandy was growing stronger as it moved toward the coast. Its center was about 200 miles southeast of Atlantic City, N.J., and its top sustained winds had grown to 90 mph. Gusts were above 110 mph.
The storm’s growing strength could mean Sandy’s effects here in the Carolinas will be stronger than earlier thought.
As Sandy moves to the north, conditions slowly are improving on the Outer Banks.
SHIP SINKS OFF N.C. COAST
The U.S. Coast Guard says a 180-foot sailing ship, the HMS Bounty, sank Monday morning off the Outer Banks after encountering trouble in rough seas Sunday evening.
Coast Guard officials say they were able to rescue 14 of the 16 people in the crew. A spokesman says three members of the HMS Bounty crew were swept overboard as the crew was abandoning ship. One of those people swam to a life raft, but the other two are missing.
The Coast Guard sent two helicopters to the scene, about 90 miles southeast of Cape Hatteras, to rescue the crew.
The ship had been built in Nova Scotia and was designed as a replica of an 18th Century British craft. According to the ship’s Facebook page, the HMS Bounty lost power Sunday evening, and the captain gave the order to abandon ship about 4:30 a.m. Monday. The ship was taking on water while battling 20-foot waves.
TO THE EAST AND NORTHEAST
Rain bands from Hurricane Sandy were falling as close as Greensboro and Raleigh late Monday morning.
That precipitation is expected to move south gradually during the day, and a few showers could reach Charlotte by evening and overnight.
Along the Outer Banks, the heavy rain and storm surge have closed parts of N.C. 12. The N.C. Department of Transportation says N.C. 12 is closed south of the Oregon Inlet Bridge, to Rodanthe. Overwash was being reported on sections of the road.
In addition, the DOT has stopped running its ferries to the Outer Banks. Manteo was reporting sustained winds of 30 mph and heavy rain at 7 a.m.
There are no other flooding reports, however.
“So far, we’ve been fortunate as we have not had reports of severe damage from Hurricane Sandy,” N.C. Emergency Management Director Doug Hoell said late Sunday. “But this is still a slow-moving, powerful storm that could impact North Carolina well into next week.”
He said crews will assess the damage on N.C. 12 after the storm passes. The Outer Banks highway was closed for several weeks last year following Hurricane Irene.
Late Monday morning, officials with electric cooperatives along the coast, including Cape Hatteras Electric, said they have restored most power outages caused by the hurricane. Most cooperatives experienced only scattered outages, according to Kristie Aldridge, a spokesman for the state’s electric cooperatives.
However, she said, Cape Hatteras Electric experienced a circuit failure due to flooding. That knocked out power to about 500 customers, and crews were working at midday to complete repairs.
Snow fell much of Monday morning in Boone, where the temperature hovered around 32 degrees and the ground had a white coating. A dispatcher with the sheriff’s offices in Avery and Watauga counties reported several secondary roads were ice and snow at times during the morning.
Winter Storm warnings are in effect until Wednesday morning. National Weather Service meteorologists expect 4 to 8 inches’ accumulation above 2,500 feet, with locally heavier snowfall. A couple inches will accumulate in Asheville, the Weather Service adds.
Adding to the problem will be strong northwest winds, blowing 25 to 35 mph sustained and gusting at times to 60 to 70 mph. Forecasters say they expect widespread power outages, with the winds predicted to knock down trees and power lines.
“It will be heavy, wet snow ... a high-impact storm,” McAvoy said.
The area included in the High Wind Warning covers cities such as Morganton, Lenoir, Boone and Rutherfordton.
While snow is falling this morning, the intensity is predicted to increase Monday afternoon and Monday night. Snowfall is forecast to taper off later in the day Tuesday.
The threat of heavy snow caused the Avery and Mitchell county school systems to close. The Yancey County Schools opened on a delayed basis.
CHARLOTTE AND THE PIEDMONT
Charlotte will be at the southern end of Sandy’s impact area. The Weather Service has issued a Wind Advisory through Wednesday morning, although the strongest winds are predicted from Monday afternoon into Tuesday morning. Sustained winds of 25 to 30 mph, with gusts to 45 mph, are expected.
The Weather Service’s Bryan McAvoy said computer models don’t indicate winds will be strong enough to cause damage, but he added, “With such a powerful low to our north, we will have to keep an eye on wind trends.”
Rain showers are possible late Monday and early Tuesday, and meteorologists say temperatures could be chilly enough for snowflakes to mix with the rain. But temperatures will not drop below the upper 30s Tuesday morning, so accumulations are very unlikely.
Much colder air has funneled into the Charlotte area. High temperatures Monday are not expected to climb above the middle 50s, and Tuesday’s highs might not exceed 50 degrees. Morning lows Tuesday and Wednesday are predicted to fall into the middle 30s.
Frost is possible Wednesday morning.
CREWS HEADING NORTH?
Electric cooperatives in South Carolina are on call to help with utility repairs along the Eastern Seaboard, officials say. In all, 13 electric cooperatives from the state are sending help to the area.
“This is a major mobilization of personnel on our part,” said Todd Carter, vice president of loss control and training for the Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina. “The forecasts all predict the storm is going to cause widespread damage over a very large area. There’s no question our counterparts are going to need a great deal of help, once the storm has passed.
Crews have responded from an electric cooperative based in Pageland, along with cooperatives in Aiken, Bamberg, Bennettsville, Blythewood, Conway, Darlington, Kingstree, Laurens and Walterboro.
In addition, the American Red Cross office in Charlotte is sending help to the north.