September 4, 2019

Life-Threatening Storm Surge & Wind Damage Likely As Hurricane Dorian Hits Carolinas

The core of Hurricane Dorian will come perilously close to the South Carolina and North Carolina coasts over the next 48 hours, potentially generating a life-threatening storm surge, widespread power outages, wind damage, and flash flooding from heavy rain. These areas will likely experience significant impacts from the storm whether or not the eye makes landfall.

The latest forecast from the National Hurricane Center, which was not drawn with a sharpie, shows the center of the storm tracking along the southeast coast through Friday afternoon. The storm will race toward Atlantic Canada this weekend, where several provinces could experience hurricane conditions.
Visible satellite imagery of Hurricane Dorian on September 4, 2019. | College of DuPage
Hurricane Dorian remains a strong hurricane this evening, packing maximum sustained winds of 110 MPH with higher gusts. This is a healthy hurricane and it managed to strengthen a bit this afternoon, and there's a chance it could strengthen into a major hurricane again as it passes over the Gulf Stream. Don't pay too much attention to fluctuations in maximum sustained winds over the next couple of days. Hurricane Dorian is a dangerous storm with wide-ranging effects for folks along the coast and for several counties inland.

Storm Surge

NHC's surge forecast on September 4, 2019. | Twitter/@NHC_Atlantic
The most pressing concern right now is a life-threatening storm surge along the coast between northeastern Florida and the southern Virginia Tidewater. This is a long stretch of coast that could experience a significant storm surge between now and Friday.

A storm surge of 5 to 8 feet above normal tide levels is possible on the central South Carolina coast, including the Charleston and Myrtle Beach areas. That type of storm surge is deep enough to inundate the first floor of buildings along the coast, posing a serious threat to the lives of those who couldn't or wouldn't evacuate.

There are so many different surge forecasts for the coast that it's a bit daunting in text form, so the National Hurricane Center tweeted out a handy map of possible surge heights this morning. It's critical to heed evacuation orders in these areas.

Flooding Rains

Hurricane Dorian could produce rainfall totals of 5-10+ inches of rain across eastern parts of South Carolina and North Carolina through Friday. This much rain in a short period of time will likely lead to widespread flash flooding. The Weather Prediction Center shows the possibility of double-digit rainfall totals near the coast, including Charleston and Wilmington.

The vast majority of fatalities in landfalling tropical cyclones in recent years were the result of freshwater flooding. It's nearly impossible to judge water depth on a flooded roadway until it's too late. Find an alternate route if you know the roads ahead of you are susceptible to flooding.


The storm's wind field has grown since yesterday. Dorian's hurricane force winds now extend 70 miles from the center of the storm, with tropical storm force winds possible 175 miles from the center of the storm. A larger wind field will expose more communities to the storm's hazards, including the risk for widespread power outages and downed trees.

Hurricane warnings are in effect for all coastal counties in South Carolina and North Carolina. Areas under a hurricane warning could see sustained hurricane force winds over the next two days, as well as a significant storm surge along the coast and flash flooding from heavy rain.

Tropical storm warnings are in effect for northeastern Florida and counties in eastern Georgia on the south side of the storm, and for southeastern Virginia on the north side of the track. Tropical storm warnings extend quite a distance inland in the Carolinas, including Florence SC, Fayetteville NC, and Raleigh, NC, as the storm's large wind field could lead to damaging winds and wind gusts well away from the coast.

The greatest wind-related threat from Hurricane Dorian is widespread and potentially lengthy power outages, especially in areas that experience hurricane or near-hurricane force winds. You don't realize how disruptive a power outage is until the lights go out. It's important to have a stock of non-perishable food, drinking water, batteries, battery-operated flashlights, medicine, personal hygiene supplies, and a little bit of cash (if you can afford it) to get you through a days-long blackout.

Downed trees and tree limbs are also a significant hazard, especially for homes with tall trees looming nearby or motorists driving under unstable trees and limbs. Be mindful of where you go in your home if there are large trees or limbs that could fall and crash through the roof during strong winds.

Heads Up, Atlantic Canada

As I mentioned last night, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland need to prepare for a direct strike from a fast-moving hurricane this weekend. It doesn't matter whether or not Dorian is still a hurricane or if it's transitioned to a "post-tropical cyclone" by that point. Labels are irrelevant when you're dealing with the potential for hurricane force winds, storm surge, and flooding rains.

If you live in Nova Scotia—especially around Halifax—or on the eastern half of Prince Edward Island, you need to spend Thursday and Friday preparing for a potential direct strike from Hurricane Dorian on Saturday. It's likely we'll see hurricane watches and warnings go up for some of these areas in the next couple of days. Make sure you're preparing the same hazards as folks in the Carolinas, stocking up on non-perishable food, containers of drinking water, batteries and flashlights, as well as incidental items you might not be able to buy if there's no electricity.

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I graduated from the University of South Alabama in 2014 with a degree in political science and a minor in meteorology. I contribute to The Weather Network as a digital writer, and I've written for Forbes, the Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang, Popular Science, Mental Floss, and Gawker's The Vane. My latest book, The Skies Above, is now available. My first book, The Extreme Weather Survival Manual, arrived in October 2015.