As a powerful hurricane moved through the Caribbean this week, Wrightsville Beach officials began storm preparations as they monitored Hurricane Irma’s path as it moved towards Florida.
While the National Weather Service Wilmington said the likelihood that the region would experience at least tropical storm force winds from what is now a Category 5 hurricane, on Wednesday evening said the ultimate path of Hurricane Irma was still uncertain. Recent hurricane tracking showed that the storm had taken a northeastern turn as it approached Florida on Wednesday, the NWS said.
“While a turn to the north is looking more and more likely by later this weekend, the uncertainty with the track, and subsequent impacts, remains high, especially for the Carolinas,” NWS Wilmington said in its Wednesday, 6 p.m. update. “As a result of the expected northward movement the probability for at least tropical storm force winds is increasing across our area.”
Meanwhile, N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper declared a state of emergency for all 100 North Carolina counties effective at 8 a.m. on Thursday, Sept. 7.
“There is a lot we still don’t know about this storm, but we do know that North Carolina can expect to feel some sort of effects as soon as early next week, and now is the time to get prepared,” Cooper said. “Wherever you live in North Carolina – from the mountains to the piedmont to the coast – you need to take this storm seriously, and you need to start preparing for some type of impact.”
Wrightsville Beach Town manager Tim Owens said that staff department heads were already meeting daily to go over preparations and checklists and would soon begin twice-a-day meetings. There would also be a small staff on hand this weekend to monitor developments, he said.
Preparations will include taking down Wrightsville Beach lifeguard stands on Thursday and Friday, he said.
The town also began encouraging residents and frequent visitors to prepare for the storm, which should include obtaining a hurricane re-entry pass.
The town also encouraged residents to make emergency evacuation preparations.
Regardless of the storm’s path, the NWS said that dangerous surf and rip currents were expected throughout the coming weekend.
Dangerous surf and rip currents are expected through the weekend. It’s too early to tell what specific surge, wind, rainfall, and tornado impacts could occur,” NWS Wilmington said. “However, regardless of the ultimate track of the storm the combination of above normal astronomical tides & large wave action is likely to cause beach erosion which can further damage vulnerable coastal infrastructure previously damaged by Matthew.”
Cooper said the State of Emergency will go into effect at 8 a.m. on Thursday, September 7 in order to facilitate the movement of any resources that may be needed to respond to the storm. It also waives truck weight, size and hours of service restrictions so that vehicles carrying essential supplies such as food, medicine, fuel or transporting livestock or crops can get their jobs done quickly.
While much uncertainty still exists about Hurricane Irma’s storm track, meteorologists are predicting that portions of the state could experience wind and rain from the tropical system as early as Monday.
“Our emergency response teams are seasoned and ready. They have been tested repeatedly over the past year and our colleagues are ready to respond as called,” Public Safety Secretary Erik Hooks said. “But we cannot weather this storm alone. This is a tremendous storm. We need residents and visitors to ensure they are ready: check your emergency plans, restock your emergency kits, and pay close attention in the coming days to the weather forecast.”
The state’s Emergency Management team began coordinating storm preparations over the Labor Day weekend with county partners, state agencies and South Carolina, Virginia and officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. They have requested a FEMA incident management team to expedite any federal assets that may be needed to respond to the storm.
State transportation officials also have placed crews on standby, been preparing their equipment and checking culverts to remove debris that may clog drainage pipes.