This story was updated at 9:30 p.m.
As Hurricane Michael barreled north from the Florida Panhandle, Charlotte emergency officials continued to warn of possible flash flooding, high winds and downed trees on Thursday from the storm.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools will be closed Thursday due to the storm, the school system announced at 6 p.m. Wednesday. Union County Schools and some schools in York County, S.C., will also be closed Thursday
Michael made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane, its eyewall moving ashore at 1 p.m. Eastern time near Panama City, Fla., on a predicted path into North Carolina. It later weakened to a Category 1.
Michael is expected to arrive in Charlotte at about 8 a.m. Thursday and leave the area by 8 p.m., according to a city of Charlotte storm update.
“The Charlotte (area) could receive 3-5 inches of rain and 35 miles per hour wind gusts,” the city said.
Rain started in the region on Wednesday, but the heaviest winds and downpours will be Thursday as the storm passes, experts say.
A flash flood watch is in effect for the Charlotte region (including York County, S.C.) Thursday morning through Thursday evening. The National Weather Service predicts 3 to 4 inches of rain could fall in the region Thursday.
“The greatest threat that Michael will pose for (the Charlotte) area currently appears to be flash flooding,” the National Weather Service said.
Charlotte crews have cleared catch basins and storm drains to prevent flooding from Michael, the city said.
State of emergency declared
Tropical Storm Warnings were issued for counties as far west as Anson and Stanly. In neighboring South Carolina, the Tropical Storm Warning extends into York and Lancaster counties, just south of Charlotte.
Tornadoes are also a possibility, but mostly in Eastern North Carolina as the center of the storm passes through Columbia and heads over Fayetteville, on Thursday, the National Weather Service reported.
Gov. Roy Cooper declared a state of emergency across North Carolina Wednesday morning, referring to Hurricane Michael as “a dreadful storm,” in a press release.
The hurricane’s biggest impact in the state will be felt south and east of Interstate 85, particularly in southern coastal counties, according to the National Weather Service.
Tropical Storm warnings and watches have also been issued for multiple counties in northeast South Carolina and southeastern North Carolina, the same area hit last month by Hurricane Florence’s winds and flash flooding.
“The overly saturated ground and weakened trees will still allow for an elevated wind risk and some power outages will occur. Flash flooding will also be possible though the storm’s rapid motion should limit rainfall amounts,” said a National Weather Service statement.
‘Life-threatening storm surge’
Hurricane Michael’s eyewall came ashore at Mexico Beach at 1 p.m. Wednesday, between Panama City and Apalachicola, Fla. It brought with it “life-threatening storm surge and catastrophic winds ashore,” reported the National Hurricane Center. The storm intensified as it made landfall, officials said.
The storm’s impact will be felt through the southeast into Virginia, including predictions of 4 to 10 inches of rain in parts of eastern North Carolina.
Category 1 storm winds are in the 74-mph to 95-mph range, and still “very damaging,” according to the hurricane center.
The hurricane, meanwhile, is not expected to impact fuel supply in the Carolinas, although “there could be a short spike in gas prices due to panic buying,” AAA Carolinas said in a news release.
AAA blamed fuel supply shortages during Hurrican Florence on “pre-storm high demand as evacuations took place along the coast, increased tank-topping of vehicles and then during and post-storm power outages and flooding....”
Observer reporter Ann Doss Helms contributed
Mark Price: 704-358-5245, @markprice_obs