CHARLOTTE — The National Weather Service in Raleigh has painted a clearer picture of what North Carolina may see after now Tropical Storm Ian passes through Florida.
Some of the latest forecasting models show Hurricane Ian crossing central Florida into the Atlantic by late Thursday before turning back toward northeastern Florida, George, and South Carolina coasts on Friday, putting North Carolina in storm’s “cone.”
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Petro warned not to misunderstand what the cone represents. The cone shows the breadth of possible paths the center of the storm could take.
“Remember, bad weather, hazardous weather, rain and all the other impacts that occur with tropical storms and hurricanes can occur well outside the cone,” Petro said. “So please don’t get too wrapped up in the cone, because even though half of eastern North Carolina, for example, is not in the cone, you can bet sure well that eastern North Carolina is going to see impacts.”
When could North Carolina see impacts?
If the storm does make that turn, North Carolina could begin seeing rain as early as pre-sunrise on Friday.
“Rain will move in early in the day on Friday, and then the heavier bands will come in later in the day,” Petro said. “That’s when we think the greater risk for flash flooding will be, late in the day, evening into the overnight, Friday night into Saturday night hours.”
On Saturday, as dry air begins to fold in, the storm may begin to fall apart. By Saturday late afternoon, we should be able to see the heaviest rain lift to our northwest into our east.
“It’s almost like splitting,” Petro said. “The heaviest rain is going to split. Some will go to our east. Some will go to our northwest. And we’re going to see a little drying from south to north across central North Carolina later in the day Saturday.”
The heaviest period of rain will likely fall from Friday afternoon through Saturday morning.
Be aware, however, that we may still see some rain even as the storm falls apart, but it would likely scattered, lighter rain that moves across central north Carolina late Saturday night, Sunday “and perhaps even into Monday,” Petro said.
Petro referred to the Storm Prediction Center’s Day 3 Outlook and noted that there is a marginal risk of tornadoes east of I-95 on Friday and potentially into Saturday.
“Basically the concern is, with any tropical system, there’s a lot of low-level turning in the winds and oftentimes we have these quick-hitting, very brief-lasting tornadoes that develop,” he said.
Because these tornadoes can strike quickly, it’s important that you find shelter immediately if a Tornado Warning is declared in your area.
How much rain could North Carolina see?
Much of the state may see between an inch and a half up to 4 inches of rain, Petro said citing PolarWx, a forecasting tool developed by University of Oklahoma School of Meteorology Ph.D. student Tomer Burg.
“It looks like the heaviest rain may indeed fall near the coast and perhaps to our west in the foothills and the mountains,” Petro said. “And that leaves a little bit of a lesser amount across central North Carolina, but still several inches of rain. 2, 3, maybe as much as 4 inches of rain, especially as you go along and east of I-95 where there may be heavier amounts.”
Petro says 2 to 4 inches of rain is not likely to cause problems along rivers or major flooding.
He added the caveat that this forecast could change quickly. Among the possible paths that the storm may take, Ian could crawl up North Carolina’s Atlantic coast.
“If that happens, clearly that will make impacts much greater and much worse for coastal North Carolina, and that 2 to 4 inches of rain I talked about, all bets are off with that,” Petro said.
He said there could be more rain or less, depending on how the dry air impacts the hurricane.
“But I’ll tell you one thing, if it stays off shore longer and makes another landfall, if you will, further north, then I would expect the wind threat to be much greater, particularly across eastern North Carolina, overwash and surge issues to be much greater across eastern North Carolina. For us, probably more rain than what I just laid out,” he said.