The Carolinas almost certainly will feel the brunt of powerful Hurricane Irma in some way early next week, forecasters say, but within the cone of possible paths, there are several scenarios.
At 11 a.m. Thursday, Irma was still a Category 5 storm, with top sustained winds of 175 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center. The storm’s center was in the Caribbean Sea north of the Dominican Republic, with the Turks and Caicos and the southeastern Bahamas in its immediate path.
The storm is moving to the west-northwest at 16 mph but is expected to turn north by the weekend. What happens for the Carolinas depends on when Irma makes that turn. Forecast models show several possibilities for the Carolinas.
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In the case that seems most likely now, Irma could turn more quickly north and take a path farther to the east, skirting Florida’s Atlantic coast, perhaps making landfall in the Carolinas and then following a path much like Hurricane Hugo’s in 1989 or Hurricane Matthew’s last October.
Matthew, which also had been a Category 5 storm in the Atlantic, slid along the Southeast coast, came ashore near Charleston, S.C., and brought torrential rain and flooding to eastern North Carolina as it turned back to sea. That storm killed 47 people in the United States.
A veer to the north-northwest would follow a path like the one Hurricane Hugo took in 1989. Hugo killed 27 people in South Carolina before causing about $1 billion in damage in western North Carolina.
The Carolinas-landfall scenario does seem the most likely now, but Irma’s path did shift slightly back to the west early Thursday morning, meteorologist Don Schwenneker of ABC11 said.
In a less likely case, Irma could turn into the southern tip of Florida and track northward through that state, weakening before it reaches the Carolinas. It would still bring heavy rain and potentially devastating flooding, plus a strong chance of tornadoes.
If the storm makes a later turn and stays farther to the west, it could come ashore on the Gulf Coast of Florida, perhaps Monday, and then track to the north, again bringing rain, flooding and potential tornadoes to the Carolinas.
No matter what happens over the next couple of days, most computer models show the center of Irma tracking over the western part of North Carolina, although its effects would be significant throughout the state.
Frederick: 919-829-8956. On Twitter: @Eric_Frederick