The latest National Hurricane Center forecast models show Hurricane Irma will likely arrive offshore of South Carolina on Monday morning and may make landfall in the Palmetto State.
As of 11 a.m. Thursday, Irma was still a Category 5 hurricane as it passed off the Dominican Republic coast on a northwesterly path towards the Florida panhandle. The NHC forecast shows the storm arriving in Florida on Saturday evening, then tracking north towards the Georgia and South Carolina coastline. All of South Carolina is within the “cone” of Irma’s potential path, depending on weather conditions this weekend.
The forecasts show Irma reaching South Carolina on Monday and passing through all day until Tuesday morning. National Weather Service forecasters emphasized, at this point, models show the storm could come ashore anywhere from Florida to North Carolina.
Irma has caused heavy damage on the islands of Anguilla, Barbuda, St. Barthélemy, St. Maarten, and the British Virgin Islands. Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne said the storm destroyed “95 percent” of the structures on Barbuda, according to the New York Times. So far, 11 deaths are blamed on the storm, although the number will almost certainly increase.
Meanwhile, state officials warn residents that Irma is far bigger than Hurricane Matthew, which briefly came ashore in Charleston and Beaufort counties last year. Matthew was a Category 1 storm at the time, while Irma is expected to be at least a Category 2. “This hurricane is the largest that’s ever been recorded in the Atlantic Ocean,” Myrtle Beach mayor John Rhodes said. “And when it hits Florida, we’re not exactly sure how much force will be taken away from the winds. But we do want you to understand: this is going to be a dangerous storm.”
Charleston-area schools are already planning to close on Monday and Tuesday. Claflin University, Charleston Southern University, the Citadel military college and South Carolina State University will close Friday. The College of Charleston is tentatively scheduling classes for now, awaiting word from the state on conditions. Charleston County public schools will close Friday through Tuesday, while Beaufort County schools will also close Friday.
South Carolina’s emergency operations center was initiated by Gov. Henry McMaster’s state of emergency order on Wednesday. At this point, state government is working under an Operating Condition 4, the next level above normal. That operating level will likely change as Irma gets closer.