Robeson County isn’t expected to feel any major effects from Hurricane Irene, which picked up speed but weakened slightly over night as it progressed toward the North Carolina coast. But counties east of here, and states to the north, are bracing for what could be a major damage from what is now a strong Category 2 storm.
The National Weather Service in Wilmington is calling for winds between 30 and 40 mph and an inch of rainfall in Robeson County starting this afternoon through Saturday afternoon, with the strongest wind gusts beginning at midnight today.
Meteorologist Carl Morgan said that rainfall will vary throughout the county as the outer rain bands of the storm, which could bring torrential downpours, make their way over Southeastern North Carolina. Some areas could see 2 to 3 inches, Morgan said.
“It’s a large and intense storm that all of the North Carolina coast is going to feel effects,” said Ron Steve, another meteorologist for the National Weather Service.
Robeson County wasn’t under any hurricane or flood watch or warnings at 8:30 a.m. today.
By Saturday evening, the skies are expected to clear and Sunday’s forecast calls for mostly sunny skies with highs in the low 90s and a westerly breeze of 5 to 10 mph.
But the National Weather Service has issued a tropical storm warning for the South Carolina coast to Edisto Beach and a hurricane warning for the entire coast of North Carolina north to Sandy Hook, N.J. A hurricane watch extended even farther north and included Long Island, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, Mass., according to the Associated Press.
As of 8 a.m. today, Irene’s eye was churning 325 due south of Wilmington, moving northward at 14 mph. Morgan said the storm will continue north toward Wilmington and turn to the northwest this afternoon. The storm was a strong Category 2 with 110 mph winds.
Irene is expected to strengthen to a Category 3 as it moves across the Atlantic’s warm water and to make landfall on Saturday between 10 a.m. and noon on the Outer Banks. It could be the strongest to strike the East Coast in seven years.
Additional National Guard troops and state troopers were heading to eastern North Carolina as Hurricane Irene approached the East Coast on a track that Gov. Beverly Perdue said Thursday increasingly looks like will rake the northern half of the state’s coastline.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency is using Fort Bragg as a staging area to shift emergency supplies if needed. State emergency management director Doug Hoell said his agency remains confident it can respond to the storm, even if flooding closes roads in low-lying areas. He said air transportation may be used to move needed supplies.
President Obama approved Perdue’s request to declare the state a federal disaster to help speed up assistance from the federal government.
As the storm moved north along the eastern seaboard, the potential for damage increased in New England because it is unaccustomed to direct hits from hurricanes. A destructive Hurricane Gloria struck the region in 1985.
The Associated Press reported that the storm has the potential to inflict billions of dollars in damages anywhere within that urban sprawl that arcs from Washington and Baltimore through Philadelphia, New York, Boston and beyond.
Risks are many from Irene’s wrath: surging seas, drenching rains, flash floods and high winds are all possibilities the Federal Emergency Management Agency director wasn’t counting out.
“We’re going to have damages, we just don’t know how bad,” Craig Fugate told the Associated Press as FEMA readied plans in many states. “This is one of the largest populations that will be impacted by one storm at one time.”
Latest forecasts had Irene crashing up the North Carolina coastline Saturday, then churning up the East while drenching areas from Virginia to New York City before a much-weakened storm reaches New England.
Even if the winds aren’t strong enough to damage buildings in a metropolis made largely of brick, concrete and steel, a lot of New York’s subway system and other infrastructure is underground and subject to flooding in the event of an unusually strong storm surge or heavy rains, authorities noted.
New York City’s two airports also are close to the water and could be inundated, as could densely packed neighborhoods, if the storm pushes ocean water into the city’s waterways, officials said. The city had a brush with a tropical storm, Hanna, in 2008 that dumped 3 inches of rain in Manhattan.
The first U.S. injuries from Irene appeared to be in South Florida near West Palm Beach where eight people were washed off a jetty Thursday by a large wave churned up by the storm.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.