Hurricane Irma update: What to expect in Charlotte as the storm turns north

Gov. Cooper: strong winds near Charlotte could cause outages, eye on Hurricane Jose

Monday, September 11, 2017 Gov. Cooper updates the state of North Carolina on the potential impact of Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Jose.
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Monday, September 11, 2017 Gov. Cooper updates the state of North Carolina on the potential impact of Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Jose.

Charlotte is in for a rainy, windy Monday with gusts strong enough to down trees and power lines, although significant damage is not expected as the remains of Hurricane Irma blow through the Carolinas.

Irma made her long-awaited turn north Sunday morning after crashing into the Florida Keys and headed northwest on a track that’s expected to bring 3 to 4 inches of rain and wind gusts of up to 55 mph into the western Carolinas.

In Charlotte, forecasters expected clouds to gather Sunday night and showers to start by Monday morning.

During the day, the city will see sustained winds of 16 to 22 mph, with gusts of up to about 33 mph, and wind will increase Monday night with stronger gusts. Rain is expected to total 2 or 3 inches through Tuesday.

Thunderstorm winds of 60 mph can blow down trees, said forecaster Lauren Carroll of the National Weather Service’s Greenville-Spartanburg office, which covers Charlotte. But so can sustained 40 mph winds.

“What we are concerned about is that we’re going to get a lot of heavy rainfall, and we do know that when we get heavy rain over a period of time, it does saturate the soil and loosen trees roots,” Carroll said.

The gusts expected in Charlotte, she said, will probably topple some trees and power lines, but not on a wide scale. “It’s probably going to be more inconvenient than anything,” she said.

No city or county offices, including Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, announced cancellations Monday.

More damage could occur in the mountains, which could see stronger gusts and heavier rain. Heavier rain of up to 6 inches is expected to fall on the western tips of the Carolinas and on the southern mountains, such as near Brevard. The abrupt change in elevation at the Blue Ridge Escarpment, where mountains meet Piedmont, is expected to wring moisture from the atmosphere.

The National Weather Service issued a flash-flood advisory through 8 a.m. Tuesday for the mountain counties of Henderson, McDowell, Polk, Rutherford, Jackson and Transylvania.

North Carolina officials said they were preparing for flooding in the French Broad River valley, brief tornadoes and mountain landslides. On the coast, North Carolina Emergency Management said it expects a coastal storm surge of 1 to 3 feet and minor flooding of southeastern N.C. beaches and along the Cape Fear River in Wilmington.

Although Irma’s westerly track west of the Carolinas is a good thing for the Charlotte region, the storm’s massive size makes its impact especially far-reaching. As it passed over southern Florida, hurricane-force winds extended up to 80 miles from the center and tropical-storm-force winds up to 220 miles, the National Hurricane Center reported.

National Guard personnel will deploy to Charlotte and other areas of the state, Gov. Roy Cooper said Saturday, as the storm is still expected to impact North Carolina on Monday and Tuesday.

The city of Charlotte announced on Saturday it had opened a shelter in the afternoon at the old J.M. Alexander Middle School on Hambright Road in Huntersville for out-of-state evacuees.

Despite the storm’s shift toward the west, Cooper said he wants North Carolinians in all regions of the state to prepare, especially if Irma unexpectedly shifts east. “Make sure you are ready for whatever Irma brings,” the governor said at a news conference.

The National Guard will deploy personnel to Charlotte, Greensboro, Asheville and far western counties Sunday, Cooper said. Search and rescue teams are also prepared if needed.

The state has seen an increase in traffic as evacuees from other states traveled to North Carolina, officials said. Some gas stations might experience fuel shortages as evacuees come to the state, Cooper said, urging people to only take the amount of gas they need.

In Hendersonville on Saturday, while northbound traffic crawled by on Interstate 26, hotels scrambled to keep up with sudden cancellations from the S.C. coast and new bookings from Florida and Georgia. Many were waiving cancellation fees and even easing no-pet policies.

“When people have to just grab anything and go, pets are important,” said June Rhodes, owner of the Holiday Inn Express at Upward Road off I-26. “They’re tired and they're weary.”

Observer reporters Jane Wester and Kathleen Purvis contributed.

Bruce Henderson: 704-358-5051, @bhender

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