Forecasters have “increasing confidence” that the South Carolina coast will see effects from record-breaking Hurricane Irma, but it depends on where the devastating storm turns north later this week, the National Weather Service said Wednesday afternoon.
Chances of a “worst-case scenario” for South Carolina are also increasing, according to Pete Mohlin, Charleston National Weather Service meteorologist.
South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster declared a state of emergency Wednesday in preparation for the storm. The executive order allows for state agencies to coordinate efforts if a weather emergency arises. No evacuation orders have been issued by the South Carolina Emergency Management Division or in Beaufort County as of Wednesday evening.
The city of Beaufort also issued an emergency order Wednesday afternoon.
According to the latest models issued by the National Hurricane Center at 11 p.m. Wednesday, the chances have increased that Irma would track up the east coast of Florida and possibly make landfall as a major hurricane somewhere between Georgia and the Carolinas next week, possibly as early as Monday. Tropical-storm force winds could hit the area by Sunday.
“If that would happen, it would make Matthew look completely insignificant,” Mohlin said. “Words couldn’t describe the impact. It would be catastrophic.”
However, forecasters stress that the track could change significantly within the next five days. According to hurricane center’s five-day track, Irma would come near the Lowcountry coast between Monday and Tuesday. Latest models place the Lowcountry in the center of the possible track.
“We will know a lot more when the storm takes a turn north,” Mohlin said. “The shift makes a world of difference. There is still a chance that it could head up the Gulf coast and there’s still a chance it could make landfall in Florida.”
According to the hurricane center, Irma’s shift north in the south Florida area would take place some time between Saturday and Sunday. If it shifts east of Florida, it would be a “worst-case scenario” for the Southeast coast.
Irma could take several routes when it gets to south Florida that will determine the fate of the Southeast and Florida Gulf coasts.
Best-case scenario, the storm would turn north far east of Florida and head out to sea, the weather service said Wednesday. But unfortunately, the hurricane’s latest track favors South Carolina’s “worst-case scenario,” where Irma would hug the Florida coast as it heads north.
“There’s still time to make plans and prepare and keep in mind the storm’s effects can hit anywhere within a 200 mile range, so be ready for any scenario,” Mohlin said
The latest on Irma’s track
For more than 24 hours, Hurricane Irma has remained an “extremely dangerous” Category 5 hurricane, showing no signs of weakening as it churns across Puerto Rico, according to the National Hurricane Center. It’s expected to remain a Category 4 or 5 hurricane over the next few days.
The storm, now being called the strongest ever measured in the Atlantic basin, could make landfall in Florida, Georgia or the Carolinas later this weekend or early next week, meteorologists at the National Weather Service report.
As of 11 p.m. Wednesday, Irma was located 85 miles northwest-west of San Juan, Puerto Rico, with maximum sustained winds of 185 mph as it moved west-northwest at speeds of 16 mph.
A hurricane warning is in effect for Puerto Rico and more than a dozen Caribbean islands, including the U.S. Virgin Islands. Wednesday evening, the government of the Bahamas issued a hurricane warning for the central Bahamas, including Cat Island, the Exumas, Long Island, Rum Cay and San Salvador.
How powerful is Irma?
Irma is already the strongest hurricane ever recorded outside the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico, the National Hurricane Center reports.
The NHC describes a Category 5 hurricane damage as:
“A high percentage of framed homes will be destroyed, with total roof failure and wall collapse. Fallen trees and power poles will isolate residential areas. Power outages will last for weeks to possibly months. Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months.”
Hurricane-force winds extend outward up to 50 miles from the center of Irma and tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 185 miles.
“I’ve been doing this for more than 30 years, and it’s rather uncommon to see a hurricane like this,” Mohlin said. “Winds are sustaining speeds of more than 185 mph. That’s almost equivalent to a typhoon.”
How will Irma affect the U.S.?
It is still too early to determine the exact impact of the storm on the East Coast, the Charleston-based NWS said Wednesday.
Weather service forecasters are “fairly confident” the storm will shift northward sometime this week, but uncertain as to when the northward turn would occur, which will significantly change the level of impact from Florida to South Carolina.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency Monday evening to prepare for the storm as the National Hurricane Center in Miami forecasts the storm to track near the south end of Florida by Sunday morning. Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal declared a state of emergency Wednesday for six Georgia counties, including Bryan, Camden, Chatham, Glynn, Liberty and McIntosh. McMaster also declared a state of emergency for South Carolina on Wednesday.
While it’s still too early to determine how Irma will affect South Carolina, the weather service warns that powerful swells generated by Irma will reach beaches in Beaufort County starting Tuesday and increase the chance for rip currents throughout the week.
Where to find updates and how to prepare
The weather service urges anyone on the South Carolina and Georgia coasts to have a hurricane plan in place and to closely monitor the forecast over the next week as there is an “increasing risk” for Irma affecting the South Carolina coast from this weekend into early next week.
The Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office’s Emergency Management Division urges residents to sign up for NIXLE alerts ahead of the storm here.
Here’s a Lowcountry hurricane preparedness guide with all the information you need for preparing for a hurricane.
Check back as we continue to report on this storm throughout the week.