Up to 15 inches of rain, 70 mph winds possible

Forecasters are stressing potentially dangerous flooding as Hurricane Matthew moves toward southeastern North Carolina.

“It is a dangerous and life-threatening situation with this flooding,” said Rich Bandy, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Newport.

Areas of coastal North Carolina could see 6 to 15 inches of rain with the storm, with some amounts up to 18 inches, especially in southern coastal areas.

“It’s going to be the worst flooding since Floyd,” Bandy said of the 1999 hurricane that caused widespread and devastating river flooding throughout the region. “I’m not saying that it’s going to reach that level, but for a lot of areas, it’s going to be the worst flooding since that situation.”

The area is under a flood watch through Sunday.

“You could have serious flash flooding with this storm,” he said. “We could see inundation of houses and buildings in low-lying areas.”

The Trent River through Jones and Craven counties is predicted to reach major flood stage, according to the weather service, and forecasters are urging those along the river to take necessary action. Flooding of Swift Creek in Vanceboro is also expected.

Through 5 p.m. Friday, Havelock had already recorded 2.17 inches of rain, according to the weather service, while New Bern had 1.36 inches. Winds were generally light at 5 to 15 mph.

Bandy said heavier rain should begin to move into the area early Saturday morning and would continue through Sunday as the storm approaches North Carolina and then moves farther east. The National Hurricane Center on Friday morning shifted Matthew’s projected path slightly north and west, bringing a higher threat to Eastern North Carolina.

A tropical storm warning has been issued for the area with sustained winds of at least 39 mph, with gusts potentially up to 60 mph in the New Bern area and 70 mph in the Havelock area, according to the weather service.

“We expect a lot trees down,” said Bandy, adding that scattered power outages are likely.

Bandy expected the highest winds to impact the area Saturday morning through early Sunday, depending on the exact track and timing of Matthew. A hurricane warning has been issued for the Cape Fear region up to Surf City.

Matthew is expected to continue to weaken as it rakes the Georgia and South Carolina coasts Friday. It is expected to be a minimal hurricane as it approaches the Cape Fear region of southeast North Carolina on Saturday before curving east away from land and becoming a weaker tropical storm.

Still, Bandy expected some coastal flooding along the Neuse River in Pamlico and Craven counties, with water rising 3 to 6 feet above normal. He expected beach erosion from rough and high seas along the coast.

Bandy also said the storm could be felt long after its winds move away from the area, as river flooding could be an issue through early next week, describing it as potentially “moderate to heavy.”

Craven County as well as New Bern, Havelock and Trent Woods declared states of emergencies. Pamlico encouraged voluntary evacuations of low-lying, flood-prone areas.

Craven County planned to open shelters — Havelock High, Brinson Elementary, Ben Quinn Elementary (pet friendly) and Vanceboro Farm Life Elementary — at 10 a.m. Saturday. Those coming to a shelter should bring their own food, supplies, medicine and personal items such as pillows and blankets. Pamlico Community College will open as a shelter at 7:30 a.m. Saturday.

As of Friday morning, Matthew had sustained winds of 120 mph and was moving just off the Florida coast, but had weakened slightly by Friday afternoon with winds of 110.

Bandy said he had moderate to high confidence in the forecast track of Matthew, and he expected significant impacts from the storm.

“It’s going to be a very dangerous situation,” he said.