Tropical Storm Hermine did a meteorological version of getting its act together Thursday as it pushed toward landfall in the Florida Panhandle and then a sweep north across the Carolinas for Friday and early Saturday.
Emergency management officials began preparations in the Carolinas, where the storm threatens to bring flooding rain, high surf, tornadoes and enough wind to cause some damage.
Hermine is expected to move just inland of the Carolinas coast Friday, but meteorologists said a combination of factors could conspire to bring flooding rains to the Charlotte region from late Thursday night into Friday night.
The storm’s approach will coincide with the start of the Labor Day holiday weekend, when typically tens of thousands of people head to the Carolinas beaches.
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Authorities along the coast said Thursday they are watching the situation closely, but there have been no closings or evacuations at this time.
A number of high school football games across the Carolinas have been rescheduled from Friday to Thursday night, however.
“This is not just a coastal event,” said National Hurricane Center Director Rick Knabb.
The summary of watches and warnings, as of midday Thursday:
Tropical Storm Warning: For the entire Carolinas coast, south of Surf City.
Tropical Storm Watch: For the Carolinas coast from Surf City north to Oregon Inlet, including Pamlico Sound.
Flash Flood Watch: For parts of the Carolinas, including Lancaster and Chesterfield counties near Charlotte. Meteorologists said the watch could be extended into Mecklenburg or nearby counties later Thursday.
At midday Thursday, the center of Hermine was about 170 miles south of Apalachicola, Fla. The storm had top sustained winds of 65 mph, and the National Hurricane Center said it expects Hermine to be a hurricane when it makes landfall Thursday evening in northwest Florida.
It would be the first hurricane landfall in the United States since Arthur brushed the Outer Banks on July 4, 2014.
After making landfall, forecasters said, Hermine is expected to move across southern Georgia and then along the Carolinas coast Friday and Friday night, still carrying sustained winds of 50 to 60 mph. High surf, dangerous riptides, tornadoes, and rainfall of up to 10 inches are forecast for the coast and the eastern third of the Carolinas.
The complicating factor for meteorologists is the approach of a cold front from the northwest. That front, which will trigger thunderstorms Thursday in the western Carolinas, is now forecast to stall somewhere near the Charlotte area due to the approach of Hermine.
The first threat could come Thursday night, according to meteorologist Justin Lane of the National Weather Service.
Pointing to the possibility of the stalled front and other factors, Lane said, “The concern here is that these ingredients could support a precursor heavy rain event tonight.”
By midday Friday, Tropical Storm Hermine is expected to be racing northward through the Lowcountry of South Carolina. That will bring heavy rain, possibly 4 to 8 inches, to areas along and east of U.S. 1.
Emergency management officials in South Carolina, still mindful of catastrophic flooding caused by a stalled front last October, cautioned residents to prepare for the storm.
“There’s still a lot of uncertainty in the forecasts,” said Kim Stenson, director of the S.C. Emergency Management Division. “It looks like this storm is going to affect South Carolina, and we want everyone to be ready. Now would be the time to review your emergency plans, just in case.”
Meteorologists said that after a lull in the rainfall Friday morning in the Charlotte region, precipitation could resume in the afternoon and continue into the evening.
The Weather Service’s Neil Dixon said computer guidance indicates “waves of heavy rainfall will occur east of the I-85 corridor, with the greatest amounts expected across the southern Charlotte metro area late Friday.”
Dixon said York, Chester and Lancaster counties in South Carolina could get 3 inches or more, while 2 to 3 inches are possible in Union and possibly southeastern Mecklenburg counties. There will be major differences in rainfall totals over relatively short distances, forecasters said, with much lighter precipitation west of Charlotte.
Obviously, conditions will be worse to the southeast. The strong winds, gusting at times above 60 mph, along with heavy rain and possible short-lived tornadoes, are expected from Friday afternoon into Saturday morning.
“Flooding dangers are enhanced at night, and the flood risk will likely be at its greatest Friday night,” said Steven Pfaff, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in Wilmington.
Based on National Hurricane Center and National Weather Service forecasts, here is the current thinking on storm impacts:
CHARLOTTE AREA: Showers and thunderstorms caused by a cold front arrive late Thursday afternoon or evening. The storms end in the mountains and foothills but continue overnight in the Piedmont, as Hermine’s advance will cause the front to stall. Rainfall ends by daybreak Friday but resumes, especially from Charlotte eastward, by Friday afternoon. Total rainfall of 1-2 inches in Charlotte, but 2-3 inches in southeast Mecklenburg. Northeast winds could gust to 30 mph Friday evening.
WEST OF CHARLOTTE: Showers and storms end late Thursday evening. Friday is cloudy and cool, with a few showers.
CHARLOTTE METRO EAST (Union, Anson, Stanly, Lancaster, York, Chester): Showers and storms arrive Thursday evening and continue overnight, tapering off early Friday. Rainfall returns by midday and continues into Friday night. Rainfall totals of 2-4 inches, with winds gusting to 40 mph.
RALEIGH, N.C. SANDHILLS, S.C. SANDHILLS: Showers and storms arrive Thursday evening and continue overnight. Rainfall from Hermine arrives Friday morning and afternoon and continues overnight, ending by Saturday morning. Rainfall totals of 2-6 inches, with winds gusting to 50 mph. A few tornadoes possible.
CAROLINAS COAST: Bands of showers and thunderstorms arrive late Thursday night and continue Friday, ending from the south Friday night. Rainfall of 4-8 inches, with winds gusting above 60 mph at times. High surf, and a chance of a few tornadoes.