Isaias is expected to strengthen and hit as a hurricane.
Tropical Storm Isaias is predicted to make landfall near the South Carolina and North Carolina border on Monday night as a hurricane, with forecasters warning of heavy rainfall and powerful winds along the strengthening storm’s path.
Flash floods, storm surges and even tornadoes are possible, the National Hurricane Center said. And the storm is expected to weaken only slowly after it makes landfall, posing a continued threat inland.
Over the weekend, Isaias buffeted Florida’s eastern edge with heavy rainfall and powerful winds, yet it failed to deliver the punch that state officials had feared. At 2 p.m. Eastern time, the storm was about 115 miles south of Charleston, S.C., with sustained maximum winds of 70 m.p.h., according to the National Hurricane Center.
Along Isaias’ projected course, officials have told residents to prepare themselves, and businesses are concerned about how much damage the storm will bring.
“It’s a wait-and-see game,” said Jay Slevin, the manager of a pizzeria about a mile from the shore in Myrtle Beach, S.C., where the center of the storm appeared to be heading.
The storm, the ninth to be named in what has become a busy hurricane season, has come at a time when many people in the Southeast are already beleaguered by the coronavirus outbreak. Officials in the region are juggling the response to a storm with a pandemic, and business owners are wary of being dealt yet another crippling blow.
Isaias, which is written as Isaías in Spanish and pronounced ees-ah-EE-ahs, clobbered the Bahamas with hurricane conditions over the weekend after hitting parts of Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.
Forecasters said some minor fluctuations in the strength of the storm were possible over the next few days, and they posted hurricane warnings for areas in its immediate path, and tropical storm warnings and watches all the way to Maine.
The Carolinas now face the dual threat of the storm and the virus.
The center of Isaias is projected to hit the South Carolina and North Carolina coasts later on Monday, and then drive inland over North Carolina on Monday night, according to the National Hurricane Center forecast.
Rainfall will range from three to six inches in most areas, with a few areas getting up to eight inches — enough to produce flash flooding. Myrtle Beach will probably see the brunt of the storm on Monday night, when the rain will increase and the risk of flash floods will be greatest. There could also be a storm surge of two to four feet, and a possibility of tornadoes.
Gov. Henry McMaster of South Carolina said on Friday that he had no plans to call for evacuations. But North Carolina has declared a state of emergency.
“We’re asking North Carolinians in the storm’s path to make sure they are prepared,” Gov. Roy Cooper of North Carolina said in a briefing on Sunday afternoon.
He cautioned residents to keep taking steps to avoid the coronavirus. North Carolina has more than 125,000 diagnosed cases, and at least 1,969 people have died, according to state data.
“This time, pack your masks and hand sanitizers in your kit and remember to social distance,” said Mr. Cooper, a Democrat, adding that such precautions are “just as important during the storm as they ever were.”
Emergency managers worry about how to communicate about storm hazards during the pandemic.
W. Craig Fugate, a former administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said his biggest concern this hurricane season is that coastal residents will stay home to avoid the coronavirus even if they face a real storm surge risk.
“We often talk about evacuations, and we don’t really clarify why we’re evacuating,” he said. “People drown. And we don’t say that.”
“Covid is scary,” added Mr. Fugate, a Florida resident who once ran the state’s division of emergency management. “For a lot of people, they’re thinking, ‘You know, evacuation, maybe that’s not so critical.’ We need to be clear and precise: The reason we do evacuations is drownings.”
Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida said on Monday that the brush from Isaias gave officials a trial run for how to deal with sick evacuees. In Palm Beach County, for example, people who arrived at a shelter with a recent positive coronavirus test result or with a high temperature were sent to a nearby hotel instead.
“They had a safe place to stay until the storm passed,” the governor said.
On a more positive note, Mr. Fugate said, virus contagion fears could also keep people who do not need to evacuate off the roads.
“The fewer people that are not in evacuation zones that leave, the better for people who do need to leave,” he said.
And he offered this advice: “Wear a mask. Pack masks. If you’re evacuating, take masks with you. If you’re out shopping: Wear a mask.”
The Northeast can expect a soaking, too.
Much of the East Coast of the United States will get a soaking, forecasters say. The National Hurricane Center said on Monday that tropical storm warnings and watches are in effect all way up the Eastern Seaboard, including Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., and Stonington, Maine.
With three to six inches expected across the eastern Carolinas and Virginia and isolated areas getting up to eight inches, significant flash floods and urban flooding is can be expected through the middle of the week, and widespread minor to moderate river flooding is possible in the region.
The Middle Atlantic states, southeastern New York and New England can also expect a few inches of rain.
Heavy rainfall in northeast New Jersey, New York City and the lower Hudson Valley was expected to begin late Monday night, building into heavier downpours by Tuesday afternoon and evening, according to Matthew Wunsch, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. Emergency management officials in New York City said the storm might bring three to six inches of rain in some areas.
“Flooding is probably one the biggest threats with this,” Mr. Wunsch said.
Winds are expected to pick up on Tuesday afternoon, he said. Sustained winds could be between 30 to 45 m.p.h., with gusts up to 65 m.p.h.
Tuesday night could bring the possibility of flooding along the southern coast of Long Island and the New Jersey coastline near New York City, Mr. Wunsch said. He said coastal flooding was expected to coincide with high tide, which is between 10 p.m. and 1 a.m. on Tuesday, bringing an additional one to two feet of storm surge.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo said on Sunday that the state was deploying high-water vehicles, pumps and generators to areas that might be affected by the storm.
Storm surge could also bring high water into Lower Manhattan, according to the New York City Emergency Management Department, and officials are deploying sand bags and other barriers in the area.
The head of Puerto Rico’s power utility is resigning after the storm caused widespread outages.
The resignation of José Ortiz, the executive director of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, known as PREPA, will be effective on Wednesday, the utility’s governing board said in a statement on Monday.
The statement praised Mr. Ortiz for his work over the past two years but did not mention that tens of thousands of PREPA customers were left without electricity after Tropical Storm Isaias barreled past Puerto Rico late last week. The outages exposed the persistent weakness of the island’s power grid, which had fallen into disrepair even before Hurricane Maria devastated it in 2017.
Last week, a blackout unrelated to Isaias began before the storm hit and left more than 300,000 of the utility’s 1.5 million customers without power. Another 400,000 customers lost electricity after the storm.
Mr. Ortiz was appointed in July 2018 as the utility struggled to recover from bankruptcy and Hurricane Maria. He said on Monday that at the time of his hiring, he had committed to the job for two years.
Reporting was contributed by Rebecca Halleck, Patricia Mazzei, Rick Rojas and Mihir Zaveri.