Over the next few days, Forsyth County is expected to get several inches of rain as the remnants of Hurricane Florence sweep across the Triad.
Winston-Salem is preparing to ensure residents will be safe.
“We’ve had a very robust plan in place for many years,” Mayor Allen Joines said Wednesday.
He said about 40 agencies came together Tuesday to review that plan, including area transit authorities, the Red Cross, hospital officials and emergency management. Despite the plan, residents are urged to take precautionary measures.
“Be ready,” Joines said. “Be prepared for power outages and flooding.”
Overnight Tuesday, the track of the hurricane shifted southward, with South Carolina and Georgia expected to get a larger impact than previously expected. The hurricane was downgraded from a Category 4 to a Category 3 and then 2.
As of 11 p.m. Wednesday, the storm was moving at 17 mph with maximum sustained winds at 110 mph, the National Weather Service said. At that time, the storm was 280 miles southeast of Wilmington.
However, the Triad must remain vigilant. It’s still expected to feel the effects of the storm today into next week, the weather service said.
It’s predicted to make landfall around Wilmington or Myrtle Beach Friday morning and sweep across South Carolina, reaching the western edge of the state by 8 a.m. Monday, the National Weather Service predicted.
“It’s moving slower. It could just tease the coast before making landfall,” said Michael Strickler, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Raleigh. “It will make landfall in a weakened state, likely as a Category 2 or 3, but still a major hurricane.”
Triad residents should prepare for winds picking up today, but reaching their height on Friday and Saturday, Strickler said.
There will be sustained winds of about 15 to 20 mph, and Forsyth County will have wind gusts of 30 to 40 mph on Friday and Saturday, he said. Rainfall totals through the weekend of about 3 to 5 inches are likely, with some areas getting more due to tropical downpours.
Meteorologist Scott Sharp with the National Weather Service in Raleigh said from Friday through Tuesday, the Triad could see up to seven inches of rain.
“There’s an avenue of very moist tropical air,” he said. “There could be torrential rainfall for hours on end.”
The National Weather Service warns that although Florence’s path has shifted, flooding may still be possible inland due to rain, beginning today with the threat continuing for several days. Power outages are also extremely likely due to downed trees.
Strickler said isolated tornadoes in western North Carolina, including Forsyth County, can’t be ruled out on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday as the remnants of the storm move north from South Carolina.
Keith Huff, director of traffic field operations for Winston-Salem, said the city has been cleaning drains of leaves so when it rains in the coming days the roads won’t flood. However, he encourages residents to scrape any excess leaves off grates they may see on their streets to aid the effort.
On Wednesday night, city and county government leaders declared a state of emergency that goes into effect at 8 a.m. today, according to the city’s Twitter post. The Winston-Salem City Council will meet at 3:30 p.m. today to ratify the declaration.
That measure will require the Federal Emergency Management Agency to reimburse the city of Winston-Salem for any money its spends to prepare for the storm, City Manager Lee Garrity said.
Additionally, the city will also monitor 24 streets that are prone to flooding, Huff said. These include Old Greensboro Road at Kinard Drive, Hawthorne Road at First Street, Reynolda Road at Bethabara Park Boulevard and Northwest Boulevard at Thurmond Street. There are also a few sites on N.C. Department of Transportation maintained roads, such as a few sections of Business 40.
The Winston-Salem Fire Department canvassed these areas on Wednesday to encourage businesses and residents to seek higher ground, said Chief Trey Mayo.
Fliers printed in English and Spanish were handed out with tips on what to do before, during and after flooding. A key pointer was that 6 inches of rushing water could knock a person off their feet and 12 inches could carry away a small vehicle. Residents were encouraged to avoid flood waters and monitor local news for updated weather reports.
The fire department also prepared its swift-water rescue teams.
The agency has also increased the number of staff on duty for the duration of the weather.
“From noon (Thursday), we will increase our staff from 90 to 135 personnel on duty until we determine Florence is no longer a threat,” Mayo said.
The county is also helping the state with an emergency shelter, which opened Wednesday at Joel Coliseum.
The shelter is intended for people evacuating from the coast, said Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Emergency Management Director August Vernon. However, people in the area can stay there, as well, if needed.
The shelter is being operated by state Emergency Management officials with Forsyth County officials supporting them, he said. Winston-Salem police will provide security.
The first busload of storm evacuees was expected to arrive late Wednesday night from Wilmington, state officials said.
The N.C. Emergency Management posted on its Twitter page Wednesday night that coastal evacuees who were traveling to Wake County and Raleigh instead should travel to the Joel Coliseum in Winston-Salem because the shelters in Wake County were full.