By Rob Morris on July 2, 2014
Arthur became a hurricane overnight, and Hatteras Island is now closed to incoming traffic.
Dare County ordered a mandatory evacuation of the island starting at 5 a.m. today as the first hurricane of the season maintained a tight track that takes it across the edge of the barrier islands overnight.
The 5 a.m. update from the National Hurricane Center shows Arthur with maximum sustained winds of 75 mph moving north at 9 mph.
The storm, which is 340 miles southwest of Cape Hatteras, is forecast to begin turning to the northeast and accelerating.
“The official forecast shows the center of Arthur moving very close to the North Carolina Outer Banks late tonight and early Friday,” the Hurricane Center said.
A few miles east or west will make a big difference. A track further inland could possibly create a Hurricane Irene scenario, with southwest winds putting pressure on the back side of northern Hatteras Island.
With all of the hurricane-force wind on the east side of the storm, a track more to the east will keep the worst of Arthur offshore but still create an onshore flow.
Storm surge is expected to be in the range of 2 to 4 feet. Periods of heavy rain are probable with totals reaching 2 to 4 inches, the Hurricane Center said.
Dare and Hyde County officials declared states of emergency Wednesday, and a voluntary evacuation for Ocracoke Island took effect at 2 p.m. today.
“All Hatteras Island residents and visitors are advised to evacuate as expediently as possible during daylight hours on Thursday before the effects of Tropical Storm Arthur begin to bring high winds, rough seas, dangerous rip currents, and the potential for water and sand overwash on N.C. Highway 12,” a statement from Dare County said.
The N.C. Ferry Division has started 24-hour ferry service and is waiving tolls on the Cedar Island run to help those deciding to leave. Once winds reach 30 to 35 mph, ferries can no longer safely operate.
Waves of 12 to 18 feet are forecast and wind gusts could top 100 mph at the tip of Cape Hatteras, according to the National Weather Service.
At the very least, tropical storm conditions can be expected for most of the region from the coast to the U.S. 17 corridor.
Under any scenario the surf will be treacherous. The National Weather Service in Morehead City forecasts wave heights of more than 12 feet on Friday. Rip currents and rough surf will churn up before then.
The prospect of high surf also raises questions about how well N.C. 12 will hold up. The most recent tropical systems — Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and Hurricane Irene in 2011 — shut down the highway.
This is traditionally the busiest week of the summer, and the fragile two-lane highway is the only land route off the island for thousands of visitors.
Thunderstorms diminished as Arthur drew in drier air overnight, but an Air Force reconnaissance plane estimated that the system had strengthened to 60 mph top winds. At 5 p.m., they had increased to 70 mph.
July 4 events have been postponed along the Outer Banks. Check with the Voice and Beach 104 for continuous updates closings, cancellations and postponements.
A Category 1 hurricane generates maximum sustained winds of 74-95 mph. If winds that high occur on land shingles, siding, canopies and signs can be blown off of houses and buildings.
Wind in the neighborhood of 50 mph will blow furniture around decks and strip trees of smaller limbs.
Damage from Hurricanes Sandy and Irene was from storm surge and flooding. Very little wind damage occurred, and power outages were scattered.
Meanwhile, Gov. Pat McCrory has signed two executive orders related to the storm. One declares a State of Emergency for 25 coastal and adjoining inland counties to prepare for any damage. It authorizes the use of state government resources to help local governments with storm response.
The second is a waiver of various transportation regulations to quickly restore power and remove debris.
The North Carolina Department of Transportation said in a statement that it was preparing for the storm. Crews are staging front end loaders, motor graders and bulldozers along N.C. 12 in Ocracoke, Rodanthe and Pea Island, south of the Bonner Bridge, the statement said.
These are in addition to equipment already in the area.