ELIZABETHTOWN — If nothing else, Hurricane Matthew is giving forecasters fits as the monster storm puts in a few of its own unpredictable dance moves.
As folks in Bladen County and throughout the region take every precaution to weather the storm’s impact, Matthew was once thought to be on a course to ram the North Carolina coastline late Friday. But as of Wednesday morning, forecasters have adjusted the storm’s path and moved it slightly more east after an encounter with Florida. Still, the outer bands are predicted to be in North Carolina late Friday or early Saturday.
“When a hurricane is forecast to take a track roughly parallel to a coastline, as Matthew is forecast to do … it becomes very difficult to estimate impacts this far in advance,” a statement from the National Hurricane Center stated.
While the impact of Matthew’s journey up the East Coast may still be in question, Bladen County Emergency Management Director Bradley Kinlaw says residents should hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.
“We don’t know yet what this storm is going to do,” he said Wednesday. “But people need to monitor the news and not let their guard down. They should be sure to have a good supply of food, water and medicines available — and be prepared for power outages.”
According to the National Hurricane Center, Matthew is expected to be a Category 3 hurricane when it sidles up against North Carolina’s coastline. Its affects should start to be noticed in Bladen County sometime Friday afternoon.
“Right now we’re expecting 20 to 30 mph winds with gusts of 40 mph and some good rain,” Kinlaw said. “But we’re preparing for 110 mph winds and 8 inches or more of rain.”
With a ground that is already saturated from last week’s heavy rainfall, Bladen County could see some flooding along with the potential for downed trees and power lines.
“The rainfall raises a flag for us because the ground is already saturated, but if the storm stays on the lesser side it shouldn’t be much of a concern,” Kinlaw said. “But the track could easily change again.”
On Monday, Gov. Pat McCrory issued a state of emergency for 66 of North Carolina’s 100 counties, partly at the urging of Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler, because it would lift weight and other restrictions for trucks being used to bring in crops ahead of the storm. Those counties are located along the coast and central areas of the state and the state of emergency was issued primarily to assist farmers, who McCrory said need time to deal with their crops, already heavily damaged by recent rains.
Troxler said this time of year is critical for crops like peanuts, soybeans and cotton.
“With the potential impact of Hurricane Matthew later this week and the threat of severe economic loss of livestock, poultry and crops, I am very appreciative that Gov. McCrory has issued a state of emergency for 66 counties in eastern and central North Carolina,” he said. “Although this storm may change course, we are monitoring the situation closely, and are working proactively because of the amount of crops still in fields. We urge everyone to take this situation seriously and take precautions as the storm moves toward North Carolina.”
Kinlaw said county officials continue to monitor the storm’s path and are ready to put the county’s emergency operations into affect — including the opening of four primary shelters at East Bladen High, West Bladen High, Bladen Lakes Primary and the Bladen Community College Annex in East Arcadia.
“We’ll have a much better idea what the storm is going to do Thursday evening and Friday,” Kinlaw said. “And we’ll continue to get information out to the public along the way.”
In case anyone has missed it, as Matthew prepares to pass by the Carolinas, another tropical system is brewing in the Atlantic Ocean. Tropical Storm Nicole made her presence known on Tuesday well east of Matthew, and forecasters are predicting she will not strengthen or be a threat to the U.S.