Powerful Hurricane Dorian is unleashing its full array of hazards on the Carolinas after causing a humanitarian crisis in the northwestern Bahamas and then zagging around the Florida Peninsula.
The core of the Category 2 storm, including the eyewall containing 100-mile-per-hour sustained winds, barreled ashore near Cape Fear, North Carolina, on Thursday evening. Tall surf, storm-surge flooding and heavy rains are affecting North and South Carolina as the slowly weakening storm swirls northeastward.
Earlier Thursday, Dorian flooded parts of downtown Charleston, South Carolina, with a combination of storm surge and rainfall runoff while winds gusted up to 80 mph.
The storm's winds have decreased slightly since Thursday morning, when the storm was rated a Category 3 "major" hurricane. However, the storm's wind field has expanded, with tropical-storm and hurricane-force winds covering more territory.
By Friday, even the Virginia Tidewater and southern Delmarva Peninsula could endure tropical storm conditions. Low-lying communities such as Hampton Roads could see a storm surge of two to four feet, according to the National Hurricane Center.
The storm is then expected to zoom away to the northeast, possibly clipping extreme southeastern New England Friday night.
At 8 p.m. EDT, the center of Hurricane Dorian was located 30 miles south of Cape Fear and about 60 miles south of Wilmington. The storm was moving northeast at 10 mph.
Hurricane Dorian had maximum sustained winds of 100 mph, with higher-speed gusts, making it a Category 2 storm. It is forecast to weaken to a Category 1 hurricane Friday as it interacts with land.
Dorian's hurricane-force winds extend outward up to 60 miles from the center, and tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 220 miles.
Early Thursday evening, radar showed the storm's powerful feeder bands sweeping inland from near Charleston, north to the North Carolina Outer Banks unloading torrential rain, strong winds, and occasionally spawning tornadoes. Power-outage prevalence was increasing in North Carolina as wind speeds climbed, with more than 30,000 customers without power as the storm neared Cape Fear.
At the same time, nearly 200,000 customers were without power in South Carolina, where tropical-storm force winds were still occurring.
Flash flooding warnings covered the region around Myrtle Beach in South Carolina and large areas of southeastern North Carolina, including Fayetteville and Jacksonville.
From near Myrtle Beach through much of southeastern North Carolina, the National Weather Service warned that rainfall rates could reach one-three inches per hour.
"Flash flooding is occurring, and will continue to become more widespread across the eastern Carolinas and far southeast Virginia through tonight," the National Hurricane Center wrote.
In parts of southeastern North Carolina, Dorian's rain bands were spinning up tornadoes and waterspouts, with warnings in effect. A tornado watch remained in effect until 7 a.m. Friday for much of eastern North Carolina northward into southeastern Virginia.
To the south, rain was starting to taper off around Charleston on Thursday evening, whn five to seven inches of rain fell and winds gusted up to 70 to 80 mph. The city avoided historic storm surge flooding since the winds turned more offshore prior to the afternoon high tide. However, the moderate surge that occurred, plus the rainfall, resulted in considerable flooding.
To the north, there were reports of coastal flooding in the vicinity of Myrtle Beach on Thursday afternoon. However, surge values have remained below the worst case scenario forecast.
North Carolina and Virginia have an intense 18 to 24 hour period of tropical storm and hurricane force winds to endure, along with coastal flooding and flash flooding from heavy rainfall.
Rainfall totals could reach six to 12 inches in the coastal Carolinas and three to eight inches in far-southeastern Virginia.
Coastal flooding due to storm surge is a risk from the northern coast of South Carolina to southeastern Virginia, where a storm-driven rise in water above normally dry land is predicted to reach at least two to four feet, and up to eight feet in places. Storm surge warnings cover this entire zone.
Coastal southeastern North Carolina will see the heaviest storm surge conditions during the high tide late Thursday night into early Friday morning. Southeastern Virginia is expected to see its biggest surge during the Friday afternoon high tide.
A landfall or near-landfall from a strong Category 2 is relatively uncommon in the Carolinas, and these storms have grown more damaging in some spots due to the combination of sea level rise and land subsidence that makes communities more vulnerable to even a modest storm surge.
The strongest winds from Hurricane Dorian are expected to scrape Outer Banks, North Carolina, with gusts over 100 mph anticipated, depending on the storm's track. Gusts to 100 mph or higher could also occur in Wilmington, according to the National Weather Service. The fastest winds are expected in the Wilmington area Thursday night and in Outer Banks toward Friday morning.
Locations farther north from Virginia Beach to the southern Delmarva are expected to be scraped by the storm through Friday night, with heavy rains, tropical-storm-force winds and coastal flooding. A tropical storm warning is in effect from the North Carolina-Virginia border to Chincoteague, Virginia, and for the Chesapeake Bay from Smith Point southward, where three to six inches of rain are possible, along with wind gusts up to 60 mph. The storm surge in this zone could reach to two to four feet above the normal high tide.
A Tropical Storm Warning has also been issued from north of Chincoteague to Fenwick Island, Delaware, for the Chesapeake Bay from Smith Point to Drum Point, and for the tidal Potomac River south of Cobb Island. This area sits along the western edge of where significant wind and rain are possible and may or may not experience tropical-storm conditions.
The storm is expected to remain a powerful hurricane through Friday, before transitioning into more of a nontropical storm system that may go on to batter the Canadian Maritimes. Tropical storm warnings have been hoisted as far north as extreme southeastern New England, including parts of Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket, Massachusetts, though the center of Dorian is expected to stay about 150 miles offshore there. This zone is now under a tropical storm warning and is most likely to be impacted by the storm Friday night.
This article was written by Jason Samenow and Andrew Freedman, reporters for The Washington Post.