Strong winds from the remains of Hurricane Irma left more than 270,000 Carolinians without power on Monday and were expected to batter the Charlotte region until early Tuesday.
A wind advisory for the Charlotte area was in effect until 4 a.m. Tuesday, with forecasters predicting winds of 15 to 25 mph and gusts of up to 40 mph.
Winds blew limbs, trees and power lines onto roads across the Charlotte region on Monday, and onto homes in Burke, Gaston and Iredell counties. No one was hurt. Firefighters rescued a man pinned in his home on Brookridge Lane, off McKendree Road and Brawley School Road, in Mooresville near Lake Norman on Monday night, Observer news partner WBTV reported.
Trees are at risk of falling when soil is saturated and wind speeds reach of 32 to 38 mph, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says. The threat increases, and includes damage to power lines, when speeds reach 39 to 46 mph.
Irma was downgraded to a tropical storm early Monday.
Authorities reported the first death in South Carolina from Irma – a 57-year-old Abbeville County man who was cleaning limbs and debris outside his home in Calhoun Falls around 3 p.m. Monday when a limb fell on him. There were apparently no deaths in North Carolina from Irma as of 7 p.m. Monday.
Threats of damage from strong winds and flooding from heavy rains prompted a state of emergency to be declared in Caldwell County at 4 p.m. Monday.
The top wind gust reported at Charlotte Douglas International Airport on Monday was 45 mph. At 5 p.m., Observer news partner WBTV reported a 55 mph gust in Lancaster, S.C.
Duke Energy reported more than 92,000 Carolinas customers without power by 7 p.m. Monday, with 70,000 of those in South Carolina. Mecklenburg County had 9,200 outages at 9:30 p.m. Duke said it had more than 4,500 workers poised to respond to expected damage in the Carolinas.
In the late afternoon, about 250,000 customers in South Carolina are without power, with most of the outages reported by the Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina and South Carolina Electric and Gas.
Charleston County had about 60,000 outages, Beaufort County about 32,000 and Lexington County just west of Columbia about 27,000 without power.
Slightly stronger wind, gusting to 50 mph, was expected south and west of Charlotte, in South Carolina’s Upstate and western North Carolina.
The weather service also issued a flash flood watch through Tuesday morning for seven North Carolina mountain counties: Macon, Jackson, Transylvania, Henderson, McDowell, Rutherford and Polk. Three to four inches of rain was expected in those areas, with some areas seeing 5 inches.
The light rainfall in Charlotte on Monday afternoon was expected to intensify at night, with thunderstorms accompanied by heavy rain possible in some areas after 11 p.m. One to 2 inches of rain was forecast.
Medic responded to 32 wrecks from midnight to 6 p.m. Monday, compared with 18 wrecks during the same period the previous Monday.
Rain and wind are expected to diminish on Tuesday, adding up to three-quarters of an inch of rain.
While Irma’s center was expected to veer far west of the Carolinas, gusty and expected deteriorating conditions late Monday forced several schedule changes.
American Airlines canceled about 350 flights out of Charlotte Douglas International Airport because of anticipated winds associated with Irma.
Weather forecasters say the Charlotte area is wedged between the tropical storm conditions associated with Irma and a high pressure system to the northeast.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools canceled all high school and middle school athletic activities on Monday afternoon, including practices, and encourages students and coaches to stay off the roads. CMS will open two hours late on Tuesday but after school programs will operate on a normal schedule.
The city of Charlotte had crews on standby to respond to emergencies. CATS was expected to stick to regular bus, rail and streetcar schedules. On Sunday night, 29 people and two dogs stayed at a shelter the city and the American Red Cross opened at the old J.M. Alexander Middle School in Huntersville.
Mountain, coastal concerns
Gov. Roy Cooper urged caution about the storm at a morning news conference. “Things are looking better for us, but we’re not out of the woods yet and we don’t want any surprises,” he said.
Flooding last October from Hurricane Matthew killed 31 people in North Carolina and forced thousands out of their homes.
In the mountains, high winds Monday morning prompted the National Park Service to close the Blue Ridge Parkway. That eliminated access to both Mount Mitchell and Chimney Rock state parks, which were also closed.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park closed Newfound Gap Road and Little River Road at 5 p.m. due to high winds. Gusts up to 58 mph were recorded at the park’s Clingmans Dome.
In the worst tidal surge since Hurricane Hugo, Irma’s wide, whirling bands thrashed coastal South Carolina on Monday with stinging rains and punishing floods that put vast swaths of the Lowcountry under water.
The storm tracked through Florida and Georgia, 200 miles away from Charleston as predicted, but its enormous reach still spawned tornadoes, downed power lines, killed at least one person and caused widespread disruption.
But it was Irma’s surge that put it in Charleston’s storied hurricane record book.
At its height, the storm generated a nearly 10-foot tide. That was 4 feet more than normal and among the worst tidal surges in 80 years after Hugo in 1989 and a storm in 1940. It was about 8 inches higher than last year’s Hurricane Matthew.
In an unusual Irma-related event, a boat that became a coastal South Carolina icon when Hurricane Hugo washed it some 2 miles onshore in 1989 was moved again by the tropical storm.
The boat had sat undisturbed after it ended up on the side of state Highway 171 in 1989 in the surge from Hugo. On Monday, it floated about a half-mile into a dock in Irma’s surge, settling into the marsh.
The boat was unclaimed after Hugo, and people began painting messages on it from marriage proposals to congratulations for graduations and other milestones. Even a brief controversy erupted this summer as Confederate flag supporters and people against the rebel banner kept painting over the boat.
The boat was painted over the weekend with a message . “Godspeed Florida,” it read. “This too shall pass.”
The Associated Press, Observer correspondent Steve Lyttle and Charleston’s Post and Courier contributed.
Here are county-by-county reports from Tropical Storm Irma:
Top wind gust at Charlotte Douglas International Airport was 45 mph.
Trees down in the Fairington Oaks subdivision in Mint Hill; reports of trees down elsewhere in the Charlotte area.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools canceled all high school and middle school athletic activities on Monday afternoon. CMS and its after-school programs will operate on a normal schedule on Tuesday.
Mecklenburg Area Catholic Schools opening on a two-hour delay Tuesday.
Anson County Schools opening on a two-hour delay Tuesday.
Top wind gust as of 8 p.m. was 34 mph.
Alexander County Schools opening on a two-hour delay Tuesday
Top wind gust in Taylorsville was 31 mph.
Tree down on York Road, a mile north of Stony Point.
Top wind gust 22 mph in Morganton.
Caldwell County Schools open on a two-hour delay Tuesday
Catawba County Schools, Newton-Conover Schools and Hickory Schools open on a two-hour delay Tuesday
Top wind gust 38 mph in Hickory
Cleveland County Schools open on a two-hour delay Tuesday.
Top wind gust 37 mph in Shelby.
Trees and power lines down 2 miles northeast of Shelby and 5 miles northwest of Shelby off N.C. 226; trees also down in Grover.
Tree fell on a home on Windyrush Lane, a mile southeast of Gastonia.
Wind gusts to 33 mph in Gastonia
Wind gusts to 31 mph in Statesville.
Wind gusts to 29 mph in Lincolnton.
Wind gusts to 30 mph in Albemarle.
Stanly Community College opening at 10 a.m. Tuesday.
Wind gusts to 33 mph in Monroe.
Union County Schools opening on two-hour delay Tuesday.
Wind gusts to 56 mph in Lancaster.
Lancaster County Schools opening on a two-hour delay Tuesday.
Chester County Schools opening on a two-hour delay Tuesday.
Trees blocking S.C. 9 at Old Richburg Road, 4 miles northeast of Chester.
Wind gusts to 44 mph in Chester.
Wind gusts to 39 mph in Rock Hill.
York, Clover, Fort Mill and Rock Hill school systems opening on two-hour delays Tuesday.
Several trees reported down in Fort Mill.