11 p.m. update: Hurricane Dorian's heaviest rains could hit North Carolina

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Track movement remains set to impact Southeastern North Carolina by Thursday

WILMINGTON — On the eve of Monday morning, Hurricane Dorian remains on a slow trek west. However, projections are the heaviest of its rain could come to eastern North Carolina by Wednesday or Thursday.

In an 11 p.m. update, the National Hurricane Center noted Dorian is a slow moving storm at 9 mph, while maximum sustained winds only dropped from 185 mph to 180. A west-northwest motion is forecasted by Monday or Tuesday and will be close to the Florida coast late Monday. As of 11 p.m., it sits 135 miles off of West Palm Beach, Florida.

As Dorian pounded the Caribbean Sunday evening, it was still unclear how closely the storm would skirt the East Coast in the coming days. But the NHC is advising coastal North Carolina residents to prepare for rain.

The NHC wrote that the coasts of North and South Carolina could see 5 to 10 inches of rain through the end of the week. The forecast noted up to 15 inches of rain could fall in some spots.

Rainfall of that magnitude can cause life-threatening flooding, the update noted. With Dorian’s path still in flux, it’s still unknown what levels of storm surge the region might see.

The NHC characterized Dorian as “the strongest hurricane in modern records” to target the northwest Bahamas. While Dorian struck the island nation as a Category 5, forecasts still showed the storm weakening to at least a Category 2 by the time impacts are possible in the Carolinas.

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The storm was creeping east at 5 mph Sunday evening, slowing for the next couple days before a gradual turn to the northwest. A hurricane warning was announced for the northwestern Bahamas, with tropical storm winds beginning Saturday night. Tropical storm-force winds could arrive in Southeastern North Carolina by Tuesday night.

The National Weather Service’s Wilmington office is closely monitoring Dorian. Though the office said the potential for flooding rain, storm surge and damaging winds was increasing Sunday, it was still too early to say how the storm might directly impact the area.

“It’s still a little too far out to tell,” meteorologist Jordan Baker said. “As of right now, it’s looking like it’s going to approach the Carolina coast late Thursday into Friday.”

The Wilmington area did however have several weather advisories in place Sunday related to the storm, including a rip current statement and coastal flooding advisory. Baker said lifeguards at area beaches Sunday were reporting strong rip currents, and surf up to 4 to 6 feet in places.

“We had a really big amplified swell from the storm. As it sits there and churns, it’s creating big waves,” Baker said. “If you don’t need to get in the water, please don’t.”

Airlines, UNCW watching storm

The University of North Carolina Wilmington announced Sunday that campus leaders would make a decision about whether to cancel classes this week by noon on Monday. Information on any closure will be shared via campus email and social media.

“At this point, we ask that students begin to consider and finalize their plans in the event that an evacuation must occur,” the statement read. “No decision has been made regarding a voluntary or mandatory evacuation, but it’s best to be prepared in advance of that possibility.”

Local K-12 school systems announced they were also monitoring the storm.

Some high school football teams have already made plans. Two games scheduled for Friday will now take place days earlier: Trask at Wallace-Rose Hill is now slated for Tuesday at 7 p.m. while Pender will face Union on Wednesday at 7 p.m.

American Airlines announced Sunday that it had added Wilmington International Airport (ILM) to its travel alert for the hurricane, along with airports in Jacksonville, New Bern, Myrtle Beach and other coastal cities.

The alert means that American Airlines passengers traveling to, through or from ILM this week may be eligible to change their flight plans without additional fees. Tickets must have been purchased by Aug. 31.

Brunswick County announced Sunday it was considering the possibility of opening emergency shelters this week.

“At this time, Brunswick County Emergency Services is preparing to potentially open shelters should the projected path of Hurricane Dorian continue to track toward the county,” the release stated. “Information about open shelter locations will be posted on this webpage and shared on the County’s social media channels.”

At 1 p.m. Sunday, the Town of Surf City declared a State of Emergency, according to an order signed by Mayor Doug Medlin. The order Sunday did not list any restrictions or prohibitions, but could be modified later and will remain in effect until further notice.

At area gas stations, it was hard to tell whether the long lines were for Labor Day traffic or the early signs of hurricane prep. But at grocery stores, the preparation for Dorian were clearly underway. Some people reported shelves cleared of water, while area Food Lions had already put out dozens of extra cases.

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At 3 p.m. Friday, Brunswick County issued a statement citing the NWS’ immediate concerns as ongoing tidal/coastal flooding and the increased threat for rip currents during Labor Day weekend. Coastal North Carolina residents who hit the beaches for the long weekend should be on the lookout for rough surf and strengthening rip currents beginning Saturday.

State officials urge preparation

On Sunday the U.S. Coast Guard also set “Port Condition Whiskey” for the Port of Wilmington, encouraging large craft to leave the area.

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“All ocean-going commercial vessels and barges greater than 500 gross tons should make plans for departing North Carolina ports,” the announcement read. “Vessels desiring to remain in port are required to submit a mooring plan to the Captain of the Port for approval.”

Gov. Roy Cooper officially declared a state of emergency for North Carolina on Saturday night. On Friday, he had allowed certain restrictions to be waived in order to help farmers and make it easier for utility vehicles to move across the state in advance of the storm.

During a news conference Sunday, Cooper announced that he had been in touch with President Donald Trump and the leaders of neighboring states ahead of the storm. His office was also coordinating with FEMA.

“To the people of our state, particularly those who live in Southeastern North Carolina that has been battered by two strong hurricanes in less than three years, please know this we are with you,” Cooper said. “State and local emergency management and first responders are watching out for you. I continue to be amazed by the resilience and dedication and caring spirit of North Carolinians, and whatever comes, we will be ready.”

Mike Sprayberry, the state’s director of emergency management, said the N.C. Department of Transportation was suspending construction projects on state evacuation routes ahead of the storm.

Reporter Cammie Bellamy can be reached at 910-343-2339 or Cammie.Bellamy@StarNewsOnline.com.