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Tropical Storm Michael will move fast across North Carolina, but could produce stronger impacts than Hurricane Florence did because of Michael’s likely heavy rain and winds, forecasters said Thursday morning.
“The period of heavy rain will be more concentrated and could contribute to flash flooding, especially in urban areas and creeks susceptible to urban runoff issues, such as Crabtree and Buffalo creeks,” the update from the National Weather Service’s Raleigh office said. “In addition, wind gusts on the back side of the storm may this afternoon may be stronger than those experience during Florence.”
The storm was about 40 miles northwest of Columbia, S.C., and moving northeast at 21 mph with maximum sustained winds of 50 mph as of 8 a.m. Thursday.
Michael’s expected path reached across central and eastern North Carolina on Thursday morning, crossing over Raleigh and southeastern Virginia.
Duke Energy alert customers Wednesday night that Michael could cause up to a half-million power outages in North Carolina and South Carolina.
“With the already saturated ground, these conditions could cause downed trees and power lines resulting in 300,000 to 500,000 outages” in the Carolinas, Duke said in an email alert.
In its Thursday morning briefing, the weather service said “isolated tornadoes can’t be ruled out” in central North Carolina, with a “greater chance along a line from Charlotte to Raleigh to Roanoke Rapids.”
The first tornado warning was issued near Burgaw, just before 8:30 a.m.
All Triangle school systems closed as a precaution in the face of a possible 3 to 4 inches of rain and wind gusting to 40 mph. Officials shuttered schools in Wake, Durham, Orange, Johnston and Chatham counties and in the Chapel Hill Carrboro City Schools.
The northern Piedmont, including the Triad and Triangle, is expected to see the most rainfall, with 3 to 6 inches, and other parts of the state can expect 2 to 5 inches, the weather service said.
“The rain will be heavy at times with rates of 1 to 2 inches per hour possible,” according to a flash flood watch statement.
The watch, effective through late Thursday, included the following counties: for Alamance, Anson, Chatham, Cumberland, Davidson, Durham, Edgecombe, Forsyth, Franklin, Granville, Guilford, Halifax, Harnett, Hoke, Johnston, Lee, Montgomery, Moore, Nash, Orange, Person, Randolph, Richmond, Sampson, Scotland, Stanly, Vance, Wake, Warren, Wayne and Wilson counties.
Flood warnings were posted for the North Carolina rivers at the following locations: Yadkin River in Davidson and Davie counties; Rocky River in Anson and Stanly; Haw River in Alamance and Chatham; Cape Fear River in Bladen; Lumber River near Lumberton; Tar River in Greenville; and for the Neuse River in Kinston.
Flooding on the Cape Fear River caused major problems in and around Wilmington, on the N.C. coast during Hurricane Florence and cut off all road access into the city, including the eastern end of Interstate 40.
The Cape Fear there was expected to peak at near-moderate flooding at 6.5 feet by noon Thursday.