Tybee Island Ocean Rescue Senior Lifeguard Jerry Hazellief watches for rip currents from Hurricane Arthur from his lifeguard tower on the beach on Tybee Island, Ga., Thursday, July 3, 2014.
Hurricane Arthur inched closer to the Carolinas on Thursday, strengthening in the process to the brink of Category Two status on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale. The storm threatens to cause coastal flooding and wind damage at the start of one of the year's biggest vacation weekends, a major contributor to the eastern North Carolina economy.
6 things you need to know now:
- Hurricane Arthur is gaining strength and forward speed, which means it will hit land stronger and earlier than expected — bad news for anyone who waited to make last-minute preparations.
- As of 5 p.m. ET, Hurricane Arthur had maximum sustained winds of 90 miles per hour, and was moving north-northeast at 13 miles per hour. The weather is rapidly deteriorating in coastal South and North Carolina, as the storm's core begins to come onshore.
- The National Hurricane Center says that the storm's center "is expected to pass near or over the coast of North Carolina and the Outer Banks tonight," most likely as a Category Two storm. An initial landfall near Morehead City, North Carolina and a projected track just to the west of Cape Hatteras has major implications for coastal flooding there, since it would bring the storm's most intense winds and surge, found on its eastern flank, ashore. During the peak of the storm, winds are likely to gust above 100 miles per hour along the Outer Banks.
- It is possible that the storm could reach Category Three intensity before striking North Carolina. IF that were to happen, then Arthur would unexpectedly become the first major hurricane (Cat. 3 and above) to make landfall in the U.S. since 2005.
- The highest storm surge flooding is projected to be along the North Carolina coast, where areas may see as much as five feet or more of water above ground level, along with high surf and beach erosion.
- The National Weather Service has issued a tornado watch for coastal North Carolina until 2 a.m. ET, since tornadoes often occur with landfalling tropical storms and hurricanes..
- A tropical storm warning has been issued for Cape Cod, from Chatham to Provincetown, and for Nantucket Island. These areas are now expected to be close enough to the storm to experience strong winds on Friday morning.
Last Update: 5:18 p.m. ET
Hurricane Arthur, the first named storm of the 2014 North Atlantic hurricane season, is on the edge of Category Two status as it heads for a rendezvous with North Carolina. The storm is on course to make landfall somewhere southwest of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, on Thursday night.
Hurricane force winds will come onshore before sunset, however, in southern parts of coastal North Carolina, according to the latest projections.
Tropical storm and hurricane watches and warnings are in effect through Friday morning from South Santee River, South Carolina, to Virginia Beach, Virginia, as the storm, which packed maximum sustained winds of 90 miles per hour as of 2 p.m. ET on Thursday, is predicted to make landfall in extreme eastern North Carolina, or less likely, sideswipe the area, with wind, rain, and potentially damaging storm surge flooding.
In a change from the previous forecast, the National Hurricane Center reported on Thursday morning that it now expects Hurricane Arthur to be a Category Two storm, with sustained winds of between 96 to 110 miles per hour along with higher gusts, when it makes its closest pass to the North Carolina coast.
The storm is extremely compact, with hurricane force winds only extending about 25 miles outside of the storm's center, makes its exact track extremely important when it comes to its ultimate impacts. The wind field is spreading out somewhat as the storm moves northward, but it is still a small system.
Storm surge threat
The North Carolina coastline is a tourist mecca during the summer, but it is also a hurricane magnet, thanks to its geography. Cape Hatteras juts eastward into the Atlantic Ocean, managing to snare many storms as they recurve out into the open ocean, as Arthur is likely to do.
The beaches and barrier islands in the region are fragile, and as sea level rise related to global warming continues, the impacts of storm surge events like this one will only worsen.
A tropical storm warning is in effect for Norfolk and Virginia Beach, Virginia, which is home to the largest naval base in the world, and is already experiencing sea level rise-related flooding problems. On Monday, a bipartisan group of lawmakers held a meeting in Norfolk to plan ways to address sea level rise-related issues.
In a statement posted on its website, the NWS warned residents in flood-prone areas of southeastern Virginia to take precautions, and similar statements have been issued throughout other areas under tropical storm and hurricane warnings:
ALTHOUGH THE CORE OF HURRICANE ARTHUR IS NOT CURRENTLY FORECAST TO MOVE ACROSS COASTAL SECTIONS OF THE FORECAST AREA AT THIS TIME...THERE IS STILL A CHANCE FOR COMBINED STORM SURGE AND ASTRONOMICAL TIDE WATERS OF 1 TO 2 FEET ABOVE MEAN SEA LEVEL WITHIN AREAS CLOSER TO THE COAST...RESULTING IN WORST CASE FLOOD INUNDATION UP TO 1 FEET ABOVE GROUND SOMEWHERE WITHIN THE SURGE ZONE.THE CONCERN IS FOR THE CHANCE OF MINOR COASTAL FLOODING TO OCCUR IN AREAS WITHIN THE SURGE ZONE...RESULTING IN SHALLOW INUNDATION. IF REALIZED...PEOPLE WITHIN THE THREATENED AREAS WHO FAILED TO ACT ACCORDING TO THEIR PERSONAL DISASTER PLAN WILL HAVE NEEDLESSLY PLACED THEMSELVES AT SOME MEASURE OF RISK.
On Wednesday night, emergency management officials issued a mandatory evacuation for visitors to the Outer Banks' Hatteras Island as of 5 a.m. Thursday. Residents also were advised to leave the island. A voluntary evacuation was also announced for the Outer Banks' Ocracoke Island, which is accessible only by ferry.
The islands are linked by North Carolina Route 12, which has been sliced apart twice in recent years as storms cut temporary channels from the ocean to the sound. Hatteras Island is particularly vulnerable to storm surge and flooding, and the road is easily blocked by sand and water.
An NWS statement for the Outer Banks said the flooding danger will initially be on the ocean-facing coastlines, followed by tidal flooding from the waters on the west.
THE LOCATIONS MOST LIKELY TO REALIZE THE GREATEST FLOODING INCLUDE AREAS ALONG THE OCEANSIDE LATE THURSDAY AND THURSDAY NIGHT...THEN THE THREAT WILL SHIFT TO THE SOUND SIDE OF THE OUTER BANKS LATE THURSDAY NIGHT AND EARLY FRIDAY AS ARTHUR LIFTS TO THE NORTHEAST.
This is the first storm for which the National Hurricane Center is issuing storm surge inundation maps, which were developed in the wake of several recent storms, including Hurricane Sandy, that demonstrated that people in harms' way often underestimate the deadly threat of rising seas that comes ahead of such storms.
As of Thursday morning, the National Weather Service (NWS) was predicting storm surge flooding of at least as high as three to five feet above ground level in parts of North and South Carolina, depending on when the storm makes its closest pass and on its exact track. Some of the most vulnerable parts of coastal North Carolina have a chance at seeing a storm surge of greater than six feet, based on NWS projections. (Technically, the flooding values indicate the water depth that has about a 1-in-10 (10%) chance of being exceeded.)
The NWS expects Hurricane Arthur to continue to intensify slightly before making its closest pass to North Carolina, with rapid weakening thereafter as it transitions into more of a large ocean storm than a purely tropical one.
Tags: CLIMATE, HURRICANE ARTHUR, HURRICANE SEASON, SEA LEVEL RISE, STORM SURGE, U.S., US & World