With a western turn, Hurricane Irma is posing less of a threat to the Grand Strand, but coastal cities should remain on guard.
During a press conference Friday afternoon, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster said, “You never know where a hurricane is going to go.”
“We could wake up in the morning and it could have doubled back on us. We are still mobilized, we still have law enforcement people ready. We still have the National Guard,” he said.
“There is a possibility that some parts of the state will not have to evacuate. I would urge everyone to use caution and they need to protect themselves. As it stands now, they need to be prepared for an evacuation order at 10 tomorrow morning.”
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McMaster did rescind the mandatory evacuation for healthcare facilities in zones A and B in Horry, Georgetown and Dorechester counties.
A statewide closing for schools will not be issued, rather it will be up to individual schools to decide whether or not they will close.
A 5 p.m. update from the National Weather Service shows Hurricane Irma moving at about 12 mph west, but it should begin to move northwest overnight.
The eye of the storm should move toward Cuba and central Bahamas through Saturday. It should be near the Florida Keys by Sunday morning.
As a category 4 hurricane, sustained winds are near 155 mph, with even higher gusts.
For the Grand Strand, there is still a small chance that the storm will once again take an eastern turn. The NWS said the Myrtle Beach area will probably get 3 to 5 inches of rain and a 10 to 20-percent change of tropical storm-force winds.
“Uncertainty still remains and we can’t let our guard down yet, but it is becoming increasingly likely that Irma will make a turn that takes the track across the (Florida) Peninsula (Saturday) night into Monday,” said Steve Pfaff, warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Wilmington, N.C. in a 7 a.m. briefing.
Due to Irma’s massive size, storm conditions could still be felt across the state even with the current track in play, weather authorities said.
“Minor coastal flooding is possible along area beaches with each high tide beginning Sunday morning, and subsequently with each high tide through Monday,” said Pfaff.
Storm surge for the Grand Strand remains on the table, even with the current westward track, but the amount depends on where the storm lands, forecasters said. The risk for surge is less with the current track, but if the storm stays to the east, odds are more threatening for the Grand Strand.
Some inland flooding is also possible, but the amounts are highly dependent on the storm’s track. Low-lying and flood prone areas are in jeopardy of seeing some level of overflow.
“Rainfall amounts of 1-5 (inches) are possible, with the higher amounts expected generally south of a Florence to Myrtle Beach line. Some areas could receive flooding as a result especially since some areas across northeast South Carolina are 125 to 150 percent above normal rainfall over the last 14 days,” said Pfaff.
River flooding is a possibility, but it’s deeply dependent on the amount of rainfall that pours over the area.
Tropical storm-force wind likelihood has lessened with the current track, but remain at 10 - 30 percent for northeast South Carolina and southeast North Carolina.
“The hurricane force probabilities have shifted farther south across southern South Carolina into Georgia. Based on this it remains possible that some of the area could receive tropical storm force winds, but the focus is farther south and southwest given the latest track. However, we still can’t let our guard down yet,” the NWS briefing stated.
A risk for tornado development is expected to form Sunday night into Monday morning, especially for the coastal areas of northeast South Carolina, and this risk could stretch more into Monday, depending on the storm’s track.
On Friday morning, Horry County shifted their Operating Condition level from 3 back to a 4. The county moved from 4 to 3 Thursday, meaning a storm poses a “significant threat” to our area and the county’s emergency management team would likely be activated. At level 4, the county is on alert status and is keeping a watchful eye on the storm.
“Hurricane Irma’s track is still uncertain however citizens should continue to monitor this dangerous system. Citizens should be finishing up preparations today and tomorrow should the storm change track,” county officials stated in a news release Friday morning.
Irma has slightly weakened to a still-powerful Category 4 hurricane. Data shows the large storm may slowly downgrade a little, but the hurricane is expected to stay at least at her Cat. 4 status before making landfall near the tip of the Florida peninsula with life-threatening storm conditions beginning to bear down on Saturday for the Florida Keys and other parts of the state, according to the current NHC forecast, which is still subject to change.
“There is a chance of direct impacts in portions of Georgia,South Carolina, and North Carolina, but it is too early to specify the magnitude and location of these impacts,” the 5 a.m. NHC update stated.
The latest track still keeps Irma from hugging the east coast and churning upward toward the South Carolina coast; however, Chief Meterologist Ed Piotrowski with WPDE warned late Thursday night that there was still a chance Irma could end up staying over the ocean instead.
He warned it wasn’t time for those on the Grand Strand to let their guards down and to still be prepared.
If the storm does strike the tip of Florida and travel up through land, she would weaken considerably without the warm ocean to help maintain her power, but depending on where the storm hits, the Grand Strand could still get heavy rain, storm surge, and damaging winds, WPDE reports.
“It’s always a question of safety for people,” McMaster said. “And sometimes it’s an inconvenience.”