Hurricane Ian: North Carolina braces for strong winds, heavy rain this weekend
Updated Wednesday, Sept. 28 at 9:25 a.m.
Hurricane Ian neared landfall in Florida on Wednesday morning, gaining top winds of 155 mph. It'll bring rain and gusty winds to North Carolina, potentially beginning as soon as Thursday evening and lasting through the weekend.
Ian’s forward movement shifted slightly southward, likely sparing Tampa and St. Petersburg their first direct hit by a major hurricane since 1921.
Parts of Georgia and South Carolina also could see flooding rains and some coastal surge into Saturday. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp preemptively declared an emergency, ordering 500 National Guard troops onto standby to respond as needed.
In North Carolina, the National Weather Service says rain will be heaviest on the coast, where up to 10 inches could fall from southern Brunswick County to the southern Outer Banks.
There's still a lot of uncertainty about the storm's path. Emergency management officials say residents in all parts of the state should sign up for weather alerts and prepare emergency supplies.
Preparing for outages
Duke Energy, the state's largest utility provider, is monitoring Hurricane Ian and its potential impacts. The company says it already has about 10,000 line and tree workers on the ground in Florida, where the storm's greatest impacts are expected.
Forecasters expect Hurricane Ian to weaken by the time it reaches North Carolina, but the storm could still cause localized power outages.
Duke Energy spokesman Jeff Brooks says North Carolina crews will stay here until the storm passes to evaluate the greatest areas of need.
"We're going to hold our crews here in the Carolinas for now because we are in the path of the storm. We want to make sure we're supporting our local communities and being there for them. Once the storm has passed, we'll evaluate whether there's opportunities to go down and support our Florida peers," said Brooks.
Meanwhile, Duke Energy's drone crews are on standby across the Southeast to help survey storm damage.
On Tuesday at a drone demonstration at Durham City Hall, Duke Energy's Director of Unmanned Aerial Systems Jackson Rollins said the company will use the drones to both assess storm damage and locate safe access points that are not flooded.
National Weather Service forecast
Ian is the fifth hurricane of this year's Atlantic season.
Meteorologist Olivia Cahill with the National Weather Service in Newport/Morehead City told Public Radio East that the storm is expected to bring winds of up to 35 mph and up to seven inches of rain once it hits North Carolina. And she adds that an isolated tornado or waterspout is not entirely impossible for Friday night and into Saturday.
“The threat for tornadoes is possible, but it's not as likely as the heavy rain,” Cahill said.
Nick Petro, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Raleigh, says, "Almost everybody will see three inches of rain, some people will see five inches of rain, and a few people and places will see seven."
Petro says the heaviest rain will fall Friday and most of the day on Saturday.
Cahill added there is also expected to be an easterly wind coming off the ocean, during a higher astronomical tide cycle, and those two things combined make flooding the greatest concern.
“It's looking like we'll have strong northeasterly winds that may be starting as early as Wednesday night,” Cahill told PRE.
In low-lying areas of eastern North Carolina, Ian’s heavy rains could mean possible flash flooding.
In August, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said it continued to predict an above-average 2022 Atlantic hurricane season despite a slow start.
NOAA and partner scientists have found that human-caused climate change is likely "fueling more powerful hurricanes" and that sea-level rise contributes to increased flooding during these storms.
Red Cross readiness
The American Red Cross says they're ready to respond if Hurricane Ian makes an impact on eastern North Carolina, too.
James Jarvis is the Executive Director of the Red Cross Cape Fear Chapter, which covers parts of the east coast. He says they've taken the first steps toward readiness if they’re needed.
“We've already prepositioned a number of assets, both people and supplies, to be able to respond as quickly as possible, ahead of the storm, but also once the storm arrives,” Jarvis told PRE.
Jarvis says they have already sent a team of four to Florida ahead of Hurricane Ian. Six people were also recently sent to Puerto Rico to help out after Hurricane Fiona.
Susan Forbes — a spokeswoman for OneBlood, a nonprofit that serves more than 250 hospitals across the Southeast, including North Carolina — is urging folks to donate blood as part of their preparedness plans for Ian.
”When you see a hurricane coming, it’s even more important that we bolster the blood supply," Forbes told WFDD. "Once the storm hits, there may be parts of our service area that won’t be able to operate should it get really bad like they’re anticipating.”
Impact on weekend games
College sports administrators in the Carolinas are monitoring Hurricane Ian too. East Carolina University announced that its football game on Saturday at the University of South Florida has been moved across the state to Boca Raton. USF is based in Tampa.
N.C. State’s football team – undefeated and ranked No. 10 in this week’s AP Top 25 Poll – is set for a big matchup on Saturday at No. 5 Clemson in South Carolina on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. N.C. State head coach Dave Doeren said his team is planning “for the worst and hoping for the best.”
"If we can't fly, then how are we going to get there?" Doeren told the Fayetteville Observer. "So, there are a lot of things that we're having to be ready for in case it gets like that.”
Doeren’s team beat Notre Dame in 2016 in Raleigh during Hurricane Matthew.
Wake Forest is scheduled to play at Florida State on Saturday in Tallahassee, Fla., Duke is hosting Virginia, and UNC is hosting Virginia Tech. A game scheduled for Saturday between South Carolina and S.C. State has been moved to Thursday.
Festival goes indoors
Hurricane Ian is causing the International Bluegrass Music Association to move its weekend festival in Raleigh indoors.
This year's Main Stage performances were supposed to be at the Red Hat Amphitheater. They're now moving to the Raleigh Memorial Auditorium at the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts.
All previously scheduled performances at the five free Street Stages will move to the Raleigh Convention Center. An event spokesperson says more than 100 vendors will still continue to be inside the RCC.
The Associated Press and Public Radio East's Annette Weston-Riggs contributed to this report.