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This story was updated at 3 p.m.
Hurricane Michael is now an “extremely dangerous” Category 4 storm, with 155 mph sustained winds as the eyewall moved ashore at 1 p.m. Eastern time near Panama City, Florida, on a predicted path into North Carolina.
Gov. Roy Cooper declared a state of emergency across North Carolina Wednesday morning, referring to Hurricane Michael as “a dreadful storm,” in a press release.
The hurricane’s biggest impact in the state will be felt south and east of Interstate 85, particularly in southern coastal counties, says the National Weather Service. However, experts say some computer models suggest Michael’s path could skew west, sending the center of the storm closer to the Charlotte area.
The Charlotte region will see inches of rain over the next three days and winds near 30 mph, experts predict. Heavier winds and rain are expected elsewhere in the state.
Rain will start in the region Wednesday (an 80 percent chance), but the heaviest winds and downpours will be Thursday (100 percent chance) as the storm passes, experts say.
A flash flood watch is in effect for the Charlotte region (including York County, S.C.) Thursday morning through Thursday evening. The National Weather Service is predicting 3 to 4 inches of rain could fall in the region Thursday.
“The greatest threat that Michael will pose for (the Charlotte) area currently appears to be flash flooding,” said the National Weather Service.
“The heaviest rainfall totals are expected to be along and south of Interstate 85. The Charlotte metropolitan area is at particular risk of flash flooding, due to very high rainfall rates developing tomorrow along with excessive urban runoff. Areas that flooded during heavy rainfall last month with Florence may flood again during Michael.”
Tropical Storm Warnings have been issued for counties as far west as Anson and Stanly. In neighboring South Carolina, the Tropical Storm Warning extends into York and Lancaster counties, just south of Charlotte.
Tornadoes are also a possibility, but mostly in eastern North Carolina as the center of the storm passes through Columbia, S.C., and heads over Fayetteville, N.C., on Thursday, says the National Weather Service.
Tropical Storm warnings and watches have been issued for multiple counties in northeast South Carolina and southeastern North Carolina, the same area hit last month by Hurricane Florence’s winds and flash flooding.
“The overly saturated ground and weakened trees will still allow for an elevated wind risk and some power outages will occur. Flash flooding will also be possible though the storm’s rapid motion should limit rainfall amounts,” said a National Weather Service statement.
Hurricane Michael’s eyewall came ashore at Mexico Beach at 1 p.m. Wednesday, between Panama City and Mexico Beach, Florida. It brought with it “life-threatening storm surge and catastrophic winds ashore,” reported the National Hurricane Center. The storm intensified as it made landfall, officials said.
Impact from the storm will be felt through the southeast into Virginia, including predictions of 4 to 10 inches of rain in parts of eastern North Carolina.
“Michael is an extremely dangerous Category 4 hurricane (and) some additional strengthening is possible before landfall,” said a National Weather Center update.
Category 4 storm winds are in the 130 mph range to 156 mph. The Weather Channel is predicting the storm will maintain Category 4 strength until it makes landfall, then begin to weaken as it moves north.
Michael’s hurricane force winds are extending 45 miles out from the eye of the storm, and tropical force winds are being felt 185 miles away, says the National Hurricane Center.
Mark Price: 704-358-5245, @markprice_obs