As Hurricane Dorian churns less than 100 miles away from Hilton Head Island, Beaufort County should expect to see life-threatening storm surge, tropical storm- or hurricane-force winds, excessive rainfall and flash flooding, with the worst of the storm overnight.
At 11 p.m., the National Weather Service said the hurricane had regained status as a Category 3 hurricane. The hurricane, with tropical storm-force winds that extend out 195 miles, picked up speed as it is about 100 miles south of Charleston, South Carolina, the hurricane center said.
Despite the category change, the National Weather Service in Charleston said the forecast for the area remains consistent, and the area will see the same kind of impacts as previously reported during the day.
“We haven’t really changed anything in the forecast,” said meteorologist Rebecca Davidson after midnight. “Winds are picking up. They could pick up as the night goes on.”
Around midnight, the eye of the storm is 104 miles from Hilton Head, Davidson said, with the eyewall 78 miles away.
Tropical storm-force wind gusts were being reported throughout the county, said Steve Rowley, a NWS forecaster.
“Now is the time to shelter in place,” Rowley said. “Don’t travel. Don’t try to get on the roads. Stay where you are at. It is too late to really do much of anything else. Just take some action to protect yourself because the storm is now getting on top of us.”
Beaufort County could see sustained winds of 45 to 60 mph, with gusts up to 75 to 85 mph at the peak of the storm.
“We are talking about hurricane-force gusts, and greater gusts are possible,” Rowley said.
Any movement a little further west and the storm could still make landfall somewhere on the coast.
It was moving northward near 7 miles per hour, Davidson said after midnight. Winds are currently 45 mph at Hilton Head Airport.
Hurricane-force wind gusts are more likely on the barrier islands, including Hilton Head and Hunting islands. Those gusts could bring widespread power loss, significant tree damage and minor structural damage along the coast.
Even though Dorian is set to track offshore, Beaufort County residents should expect to start seeing dangerous effects from Dorian with rain, storm surge and tropical storm-force winds.
The rain shield from Hurricane Dorian moved into Beaufort County early Wednesday night, Blair Holloway, lead meteorologist for the weather service said.
Rain could vary throughout the region with 4 to 5 inches in the western portion near Jasper County and between 10 and 12 inches on Hunting Island, Hilton Head Island is predicted to see about 6 to 8 inches.
The National Weather Service issued hurricane and storm surge warnings for Hilton Head Island, Beaufort and Bluffton areas Tuesday in anticipation of Dorian. Those warnings remain in effect.
Of all the threats Beaufort County faces from Dorian, forecasters are most concerned with storm surge.
A life-threatening storm surge of 4-7 feet above ground is forecast in certain coastal areas, according to the National Weather Service.
High water levels could continue with a peak early Thursday morning at high tide, which is at 1:25 a.m. Thursday on Hilton Head Island, 2:24 a.m. in Bluffton and 2:33 a.m. in Beaufort. Wednesday afternoon, water was starting to recede following the 2 p.m. high tide in Beaufort County, said Emily McGraw, a Weather Service meteorologist.
The storm surge could make roads in coastal Beaufort County impassable and severely erode the barrier island beaches.
“What’s particularly dangerous is that people think storm surge is just the beaches,” NWS meteorologist Neil Dixon said. “What they don’t realize is the water will have enough time to build into every tidal creek and river, and the higher the storm surge builds, the less effective the storm drains will become, and that will cause flash flooding.”
Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner hosted a press conference to update the community on the storm at 11 a.m. A curfew will be enforced in Beaufort County during the brunt of the storm from 10 p.m. Wednesday to 6 a.m. Thursday.
A 4:30 p.m. alert from the Sheriff’s Office asked those who did not evacuate were asked to shelter and avoid driving
Beaufort County is still under an evacuation order, but lane reversals on Hilton Head have ended.
EMS crews were to be pulled from Daufuskie Island Tuesday evening, Beaufort County administrator Ashley Jacobs said at the press conference.
Hilton Head’s bridges will not close unless the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office determines that the winds will make traveling across them dangerous, the Town of Hilton Head Island officials said in a news release.
“Emergency services response will continue to operate as long as it’s safe to do so,” town officials said Wednesday morning.
Hilton Head Island Fire Rescue closed three stations on the island and relocated crews to University of South Carolina-Beaufort, the department announced in a news release at 3:30 p.m. Four stations remained open on the island: Station 4 on Squire Pope Road, Station 5 on Whooping Crane Way, Station 6 on Dalmatian Lane and Station 7 on Marshland Road.
Emergency operations will be discontinued when wind makes driving unsafe, the news release said. Calls to 911 will be recorded and responded to once it is safe for crews to do so.