RICHMOND — Hurricane Dorian is expected to bring a dangerous combination of wind and water to coastal portions of Virginia on Friday, while the western edge of the storm brushes metro Richmond.
The storm will curve to the northeast along the South Carolina coast Thursday, then churn over the entire length of North Carolina’s beaches from Thursday night into Friday morning.
The eye could make landfalls near Cape Fear, Cape Lookout and Cape Hatteras in North Carolina, but the wind, surge, waves and rain will spread well away from Dorian’s center and affect eastern Virginia, as well.
Dorian is unlikely to dramatically strengthen or weaken before reaching North Carolina, most likely staying at Category 2 status, but storm surge and rainfall will be significant regardless of its category label.
By Friday evening, the worst of the storm will be speeding out to sea northeast of the Virginia capes, and Saturday will be a calmer day across the region.
Metro Richmond: Plan for a breezy Friday, with peak wind gusts ranging from 35 to 45 mph. While the winds probably won’t be strong enough to cause structural damage or major outages, issues with trees, branches and power lines can’t be ruled out. Rain totals appear too low for flooding concerns.
Northern Neck, Middle Peninsula, Williamsburg and Emporia: Dorian’s winds and rain will be increasingly potent farther east. Peak gusts on Friday could hit 50 to 55 mph in these areas, leading to scattered tree damage and outages. Rain totals of 2 to 4 inches might lead to flash flooding.
Hampton Roads and the Eastern Shore: Friday will be a rough, hazardous day for travel in and around Hampton Roads. The region will face sustained tropical storm-force winds of 40 to 60 mph with higher gusts.
Inland flooding could result from several inches of rain, and a 2- to 4-foot storm surge on top of the afternoon high tide will lead to coastal flooding.
Thursday should be used to stow loose outdoor items, secure boats and park cars away from frequently flooded areas, according to the National Weather Service in Wakefield. Conditions will deteriorate Thursday night, be worst during the day Friday, then ease on Friday evening.
Outer Banks and coastal North Carolina: This area is likely to see the very worst of Dorian on Friday. Hurricane-force winds, storm surge and high surf are likely to cause significant erosion, damage to property and serious travel disruption.
Charlottesville, Lynchburg, Western Piedmont and Northern Virginia: Little or nothing of Dorian’s rain will make it this far inland. A northerly breeze will be noticeable, but not damaging. Peak gusts may only top out around 25 mph on Friday across that region.
As expected, watches were upgraded to warnings ahead of Dorian on Wednesday as confidence in the forecast continued to increase.
The National Weather Service extended storm surge warnings as far north as Poquoson, including Hampton Roads, the lower James River, and the sounds and tidal rivers of North Carolina.
Warnings for coastal flooding may be expanded northward along the Middle Peninsula, Northern Neck and Eastern Shore as the storm nears.
All of North Carolina is under a hurricane warning up to the Virginia border, including the Albemarle Sound and Pamlico Sound.
As of Wednesday evening, a tropical storm warning was posted for most of coastal Virginia south of Chincoteague, and south of Smith Point in the Chesapeake Bay.
In Virginia, the tropical storm warning also includes Northumberland, Lancaster, Middlesex, Mathews, Gloucester, York, James City, Williamsburg, Surry, Isle of Wight and Southampton, plus the rest of Hampton Roads and the Eastern Shore.
A new tropical storm watch posted on Wednesday evening covers areas from Chincoteague to Fenwick Island, Del., the Chesapeake Bay from Smith Point to Drum Point, and the Potomac River south of Cobb Island.
The following inland localities also were included in the tropical storm watch: Richmond County, Westmoreland, eastern Essex, eastern King and Queen, eastern King William, New Kent, Charles City, Prince George, Petersburg, Hopewell, Sussex, Greensville and Emporia.
There will be a significant threat for coastal flooding on Friday across Hampton Roads and the lower portions of the James River and York River, especially coinciding with Friday afternoon’s high tide.
Low-lying coastal roads and properties that already experience recurrent flooding are likely to be inundated with 2 to 4 feet of water, according to the National Weather Service.
In addition, minor flooding is forecast to linger into Saturday’s high tides.
Along the Outer Banks, a surge of 3 to 4 feet with 10- to 15-foot waves is expected to cause significant erosion of beaches and dunes.
The highest chance for heavy rainfall and flash flooding across inland areas will exist through coastal North Carolina and southeastern Virginia, but less so in metro Richmond, which will be on the western fringe of the precipitation.
Expect to see a significant gradient in totals across the region with very little west of Interstate 95 but several inches toward southeastern Virginia and Hampton Roads.
Most scenarios bring Richmond less than 1.5 inches of rain, so flash flooding and river flooding are not expected in or near the metro area.
It may or may not be a continuous rain, depending on where that western edge sets up.
Showers will gradually enter the region from the south on Thursday, turning to a steadier rain over eastern Virginia by Friday morning. Showers will taper off in the afternoon and clear out of coastal areas late Friday as the storm heads out to sea.
Dorian will generate gusty conditions in central Virginia, though damaging wind is a greater concern for the Tidewater region and points south.
A northerly breeze will become more noticeable in Richmond on Thursday night, with some gusts to 25 or 30 mph.
The National Weather Service in Wakefield expects gusts to 40 or 45 mph as far west as Interstate 95 on Friday morning, though the forecast is subject to change.
For comparison, the highest gust Richmond International Airport reported during Michael last October was 56 mph.
Tidewater can expect sustained tropical storm conditions, likely setting in late Thursday night or early Friday morning and ending by Friday night.
Gusts could hit 70 to 75 mph right along the Atlantic.
For central Virginia, we’ll be on the side of the storm that is unfavorable for a significant tornado threat.
Elsewhere in the region, a risk for brief tornadoes will be centered over eastern North Carolina on Thursday and Friday.
While a tornado can’t be ruled out in Virginia, this does not have the look of a very active Florence-type situation.
On Wednesday, the Virginia National Guard announced plans to mobilize about 30 soldiers to assist with state and local response in affected areas. If needed, more personnel and equipment could be called in to the Eastern Shore and Hampton Roads region.
The Associated Press reported that the U.S. Navy has ordered ships based on Virginia’s coast to head out to sea to avoid Hurricane Dorian.
Navy spokeswoman Elizabeth Baker said by phone Wednesday that vessels docked at the world’s largest Navy base in Norfolk and other nearby installations are getting underway.
Vice Admiral Andrew Lewis said in a statement Tuesday that the ships will remain at sea until the threat from the storm subsides. Navy aircraft will either be secured in hangars or fly to more inland airfields. The Navy’s order follows a similar one made by the U.S Air Force earlier Tuesday.