After days of watching and preparing, the expected heavy rain – and threat of minor flooding – for the Charlotte region began in earnest Friday night, driven primarily by a slow-moving weather system from the deep South, not Hurricane Joaquin which continued to move away from the U.S. coast.
The low-pressure system, over Georgia as the rain and winds began in Charlotte on Friday, is expected to deliver as much as 8 inches of rain to the Charlotte area and mountain counties. It is being assisted by moisture from the tropics funneled in by Joaquin, said Joshua Palmer, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Greer, S.C.
“Joaquin is a small player in this, not the main impact,” Palmer said. “The low-pressure system is moving so slowly and that’s why we’re seeing such a prolonged period of rain. We don’t want the public to think this is the result of Joaquin.”
Even before the rain arrived, its impact was felt with dozens of events canceled or postponed.
Despite Joaquin’s diminishing threat, Gov. Pat McCrory didn’t lift a state of emergency intact for all 100 counties, saying the threats of flooding will present a danger statewide into next week.
McCrory ordered the evacuation of Ocracoke Island on the Outer Banks. Rains unrelated to Joaquin caused flooding Friday morning that closed N.C. 210 (Island Drive) southbound in North Topsail Beach in Onslow County and N.C. 12 on Cedar Island in Carteret County.
Flash flood watch remains
Much of the Charlotte region will remain under a flash flood watch that began at 8 a.m. Friday and continues into Monday. Friday night, the weather service issued a flash flood warning for York County, S.C., and Gaston County.
Palmer said that Mecklenburg, Gaston, Lincoln and York counties could get 6 to 8 inches of rain by Monday. Counties north of Charlotte such as Cabarrus and Rowan will likely receive less at 5 to 6 inches. There’s also a river flood warning for primary rivers in the Piedmont and mountains, including the Broad River in South Carolina, the Catawba’s South Fork near Lowell and the French Broad near Asheville in the mountains.
“We’re expecting minor flooding in those areas,” he said.
A fallen tree, not flooding, closed Pierson Drive off Independence Boulevard for much of Friday, Charlotte-Mecklenburg police said.
“With this latest forecast, we are urging caution on the part of all residents,” said Mark Boone, spokesman for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Storm Water Services. “Look for water on the roads. It doesn’t take much for your car to hydroplane. If you see water on the road, turn around.”
Charlotte was expected to absorb the storm’s first round of rain overnight Friday, with up to 2 1/2 inches falling through Saturday morning, Palmer said.
My mid-morning, that round will have moved off to the west and then a light rain will persist during the day Saturday, with another 1 1/2 inches falling through Sunday morning. A second round of heavy rain – possibly 1 to 2 inches – could come Sunday evening to Monday morning, when it should begin to taper off.
Landslide warnings posted
One storm-related fatality has been reported so far in the state, on Interstate 95, McCrory said.
Mountain counties, where landslide warnings have already been posted, could be hit far worse than Charlotte by the slow movement of the low-pressure system.
Brevard, in Transylvania County, could see 10 inches of rain over the weekend, weather service meteorologist Scott Krentz said. Mount Mitchell in Yancey County can expect up to 8 inches, he said.
Landslides can occur with only 5 inches of rain, McCrory said.
“We’ve been testing our communications systems, making sure our chainsaws are working properly and loading up trailers with barricades and warning signs,” said Jerry Combs, a state transportation department official in Avery County.
Authorities in the mountains released water from reservoirs in preparation for up to 8 inches of rainfall expected in places on Saturday.
Sections of the Blue Ridge Parkway – including stretches around Craggy Gardens and Linn Cove – were closed and the rest of the highway was on alert status because of potential landslides and falling trees.
Joaquin, meanwhile, could cause minor to moderate flooding on the coast, according to the weather service.
The state Department of Transportation said it was staging extra equipment along the Outer Banks in case Joaquin comes close enough to North Carolina to push sand and debris onto roadways.
The agency also said workers were checking trucks and getting chain saws ready for quick clearance of downed trees. Crews in central and western regions had been put on standby of the eastern counties needed more help.
Mark Washburn contributed
David Perlmutt: 704-358-5061