MYRTLE BEACH — Hurricane Sandy is weakened somewhat, but expanded in size so dramatically that a tropical storm watch has been issued for Horry and Georgetown counties.
Despite that, rainfall predictions actually decreased overnight for most of the Grand Strand. About an inch to 2 inches of rain is expected from the coast out to Conway, with a half inch to an inch farther inland. The chance of rainfall amounts dropping more was not expected.
“We’re pretty confident that those are the levels we’re going to be looking at,” said Steve Pfaff, a warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Wilmington, N.C. “The storm will pass 220 miles from us, but from that sprawling wind field, we’ll see an impact.”
The biggest concerns along the Grand Strand will be ocean conditions and wind.
Waves from 5 to 10 feet are forecasted for Saturday. Seas are expected to build in excess of 15 feet, meaning vessel operations will be very hazardous.
The highest surge risk was upgraded to moderate Friday afternoon for Georgetown and southern Horry counties.
“Of course waves create strong rip current formations so there’s a danger there that we’re probably already seeing [Friday],” Pfaff said. “That’s going to continue through Sunday.”
The storm is expected to create sustained winds of up to 44 mph along the Horry County coast. Winds inland could range from 30 to 40 mph.
The highest gusts, which could reach 55 mph, were expected near the coast and – based on the current storm track – at their peak Saturday night and into Sunday. Sporadic power outages are expected.
“We’re coming off a drought so there a lot of diseased and weakened trees,” Pfaff said. “It won’t take much to get some of those trees down, so that’s why we’re expecting power outages.”
Flooding is still a concern, especially along the east facing beaches and especially during the time of high tide Saturday morning. The NWS warned that street flooding was possible in Garden City Beach, the Myrtle Avenue and Springs Avenue area in Pawleys Island and the low lying locations around Winyah Bay near Georgetown.
There is a 5 percent to 10 percent chance that the Waccamaw River near Conway could experience some flooding.
The storm will also pose some problems for the Myrtle Beach International Airport as far as visibility concerns go, though there were no flight cancellations as of Friday morning. A bigger concern will be when the storm moves into New England, which could cause problems with flights bound for the Grand Strand.
“This will turn into a nightmare for upper New England,” Pfaff said. “We’re fortunate to deal with the outer impact. Others will deal with this thing head on.”
Sandy was expected to make landfall Monday night near the Delaware coast, then hit two winter weather systems as it moves inland, creating a hybrid monster storm that could bring nearly a foot of rain, high winds and up to 2 feet of snow. Experts said the storm would be wider and stronger than last year's Irene, which caused more than $15 billion in damage, and could rival the worst East Coast storm on record.
Officials did not mince words, telling people to be prepared for several days without electricity. Jersey Shore beach towns began issuing voluntary evacuations and protecting boardwalks. Atlantic Beach casinos made contingency plans to close, and officials advised residents of flood-prone areas to stay with family or be ready to leave. Airlines said to expect cancellations and waived change fees for passengers who want to reschedule. “Be forewarned,” said Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. “Assume that you will be in the midst of flooding conditions, the likes of which you may not have seen at any of the major storms that have occurred over the last 30 years.” The storm threatened to hit two weeks before Election Day, while several states were heavily involved in campaigning, canvassing and get-out-the-vote efforts. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and Vice President Joe Biden both canceled weekend campaign events in coastal Virginia Beach, Va., though their events in o