After veering away from making a direct hit in Florida, Hurricane Isaias strengthened and made landfall near the border of North and South Carolina on Monday night, which will be followed by a dangerous trip up the rest of the Eastern Seaboard all the way to Maine through the middle of the week.

The storm lashed the shores between Charleston, S.C., and Morehead City, N.C., where it has caused widespread power outages, coastal inundation of three to five feet in some areas, and heavy rains that could reach up to eight inches.

As the storm made landfall near Ocean Isle Beach around 11:10 p.m., observed wind gusts reached around 90 mph in coastal North Carolina southeast of Wilmington. A weather station at Oak Island, N.C., reported sustained winds of 76 mph, and a gust of 87 mph.

The storm, which had been a tropical storm throughout its near miss with Florida, regained hurricane status, its maximum sustained winds increasing to 85 mph. In Myrtle Beach, a historically large storm surge flooded roads and businesses, and several tornadoes were reported in southeast North Carolina, some causing damage.

The storm will next sweep into the Mid-Atlantic region on Tuesday, probably as a tropical storm, with storm surge flooding a threat in the Norfolk and Hampton Roads areas, and a windswept soaking of several inches of rain from Richmond to Philadelphia.

“Heavy rainfall will result in flash and urban flooding, some of which may be significant in the eastern Carolinas and the mid-Atlantic,” the National Hurricane Center wrote.

The storm will then race into the Northeast, unleashing heavy rain, strong winds and coastal flooding from New York to Maine. The winds could be especially intense along the Jersey Shore into New York City, resulting in potentially widespread power outages.

Hurricane and tropical storm alerts plaster the Eastern Seaboard from South Carolina to Maine.

A hurricane warning covers the zone from just north of Charleston, S.C., to Surf City, N.C. Tropical storm warnings continue to the north, stretching from the North Carolina Outer Banks to Maine, including Norfolk, the Chesapeake Bay area, D.C., Philadelphia, coastal New Jersey, New York City, Boston and Portland.

Areas at particular risk of storm surge flooding include Myrtle Beach, S.C., and Wilmington, N.C., where the National Hurricane Center said there is “danger of life-threatening” inundation along the coastline. A dangerous surge may also affect areas from the North Carolina Outer Banks to vulnerable areas in the Virginia Tidewater.

Peak wind gusts for coastal areas from central South Carolina to southern New England could reach 60 to 80 mph as Isaias makes its closest approach, with higher values near the South Carolina-North Carolina border. This is likely to cause downed trees and power outages, flying debris and minor damage to some structures. With many people working from home due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, power outages may be particularly disruptive on Tuesday and Tuesday night from all the way into the New York City metro area.

Isaias now and its track and intensity forecast

As of 11:10 p.m. Monday, Hurricane Isaias was centered near Ocean Isle, N.C., about 40 miles southwest of Wilmington, heading north-northeast at 22 mph. The storm contained maximum sustained winds of 85 mph, making it a Category 1 hurricane. A wind gust of 93 mph was reported Monday night at a weather station high atop Frying Pan Shoals Tower, 32 miles southeast of Bald Head Island, N.C. Doppler radar measured winds just off the surface of greater than 100 miles per hour as the storm’s eye swept ashore.

Radar showed heavy rain bands drenching the coastline north of Wilmington and poised to sweep further northward toward Morehead City.

There were damage reports associated with a possible tornado on Bald Head Island, south of Wilmington, among other locations in coastal North Carolina.

Waters were rising along the coast north of Charleston.

The water level at Springmaid Pier on Myrtle Beach, S.C., rose to at least 10.18 feet on Monday evening, with a surge of about 4 feet above the predicted tide level. That makes it the third-highest water level on record there, behind Hurricane Hugo in 1989 and Hurricane Matthew in 2016.

During the weekend, the storm struggled amid a hostile environment, with winds blowing at different speeds and directions, and with height knocking its inner circulation off balance and dry air squelching its thunderstorms, especially on its west side. On Monday, Isaias became better organized as wind shear started to relax slightly, and the storm slowly gained strength into the night.

Watches and warnings

  • A hurricane warning stretches from South Santee River, S.C., to Surf City, N.C.
  • A tropical storm warning extends from north of Surf City, N.C., to Eastport, Maine, including Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket and Block Island. It includes the Chesapeake Bay, Tidal Potomac River, Delaware Bay, Long Island and Long Island Sound, and Pamlico and Albemarle Sounds.
  • Cities including Norfolk; Washington; New York; New Haven, Conn.; Providence, and Boston are included in the tropical storm warning area.
  • A tropical storm watch extends from north of Stonington to Eastport, Maine.
  • A storm surge warning covers the area from South Santee River, S.C., to Cape Fear, N.C. A storm surge warning has also been issued for parts of the Pamlico and Albemarle Sounds, including the Neuse and Pamlico Rivers, and for the North Carolina Outer Banks from Oregon Inlet to the border between North Carolina and Virginia.

Impact for the Carolinas

Into Monday night, Isaias is forecast to move along the South Carolina-North Carolina border at or near hurricane strength.

As it moves north-northeastward, onshore winds gusting as high as 90 mph in parts of the coastal Carolinas will push waters onto the shoreline, piling high waves on top of the storm surge itself.

The largest storm surge is expected just north of its center, most likely in the zone from Edisto Beach, S.C., to Cape Fear, N.C., where water rises of three to five feet above ground level are possible if the maximum surge hits at high tide. A slightly lesser but still dangerous storm surge of two to four feet is projected along the North Carolina Outer Banks.

Areas susceptible to coastal flooding could see damage, particularly if the peak of the storm hits at the time of high tide. This includes Charleston, Myrtle Beach and Wilmington, N.C.

The latest track of Isaias puts areas to the north of Charleston, including Wilmington, at risk for the greatest surge-related flooding through the overnight hours.

Over a broad area of the Carolinas, including inland locations, the Weather Service predicts three to six inches of rain and isolated amounts to eight inches. Where the heaviest rain falls, flash, river and/or urban flooding could occur.

In addition to the wind, storm surge and rainfall hazards, Isaias will also pose the potential for waterspouts and tornadoes, as the wind shear within the storm causes some individual storm cells to rotate.

Virginia to Maine

From Virginia Beach to coastal Maine, tropical storm conditions are possible from Isaias between late Monday and Wednesday from south to north. This may include very heavy rainfall, tropical-storm-force winds, dangerous surf and coastal flooding.

Even areas well inland from the coast, including the Interstate 95 corridor all the way west to the southern and central Appalachians, are forecast to receive two to six inches of rain, with isolated amounts up to six to eight inches.

The extremely humid air transported north by Isaias will also interact with a cold front preceding an approaching dip in the jet stream. That will help focus the rainfall and will probably cause at least isolated flooding issues, particularly in the Mid-Atlantic and along the Appalachians.

In the Virginia Tidewater, Chesapeake Bay and Delaware Bay, a storm surge of one to three feet above normally dry land is predicted as the by-then fast-moving storm zips northward. A similar surge is predicted along the Jersey Shore into southern New England.

This surge is likely to lead to minor to moderate coastal flooding in the D.C. and Annapolis areas, as well as vulnerable locations in coastal New Jersey and New York City. The amount of coastal inundation is heavily dependent on the timing of the strongest onshore winds and whether it lines up with high tide.

In New York, the forecast storm tide would cause high-end minor flooding, with water lapping against the top of the Battery Park Seawall at the southern point of Manhattan, while flooding parts of FDR Drive.

The Virginia Tidewater, Delmarva Peninsula and coastal areas of the Northeast are likely to see wind gusts between 50 and 70 mph. There are signs the wind field from the storm could strengthen and expand as the storm moves from coastal Delaware to southern New England, owing to its transition into a nontropical system.

“Isaias is expected to bring widespread sustained tropical storm force winds and wind gusts to hurricane force to the mid-Atlantic coast Tuesday, which could cause tree damage and power outages,” the Hurricane Center said.

The Weather Service is forecasting wind gusts to 70 to 75 mph along the New Jersey shore into western Long Island and New York City. If these winds materialize, they could result in widespread power outages. There will also be a threat for tornadoes and waterspouts, particularly from eastern Virginia into New Jersey, north to parts of southern New England as the storm’s thundery squalls come ashore.

Storm sheltering during a pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic complicates the decisions of local emergency management officials, tasked with ordering evacuations and opening shelters, and residents, who may find themselves forced to use them.

Last week, the American Meteorological Society released guidance on sheltering during the pandemic, stressing “if you evacuate to a shelter, you are responsible for your health.” The document notes, however, that states and municipalities that open shelters will most probably provide for social distancing and mask use, among other precautions.

The society recommended residents procure and bring their own sanitation supplies while also following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency plans to rely less on deployed field teams in areas where community spread of the coronavirus is occurring, instead processing damage claims remotely. In addition, storm planning documents encourage officials to consider ordering those not vulnerable to storm surge or other flooding impacts to shelter in place.

Getting to ‘I’ in July: Isaias in historical perspective

Isaias became the ninth named Atlantic storm of 2020, which does not usually develop until closer to early October. It’s the earliest “I” storm on record by more than a week, and the latest domino to topple in a season that has also brought the earliest-forming C, E, F and G storms on record in the Atlantic — Cristobal, Edouard, Fay and Gonzalo. Including Isaias, 2020 has produced five named storms in July, tied for the most on record with 2005.

It is the first time on record that the last week of July has produced two hurricanes (Isaias and Hanna) in the Atlantic.

Matthew Cappucci contributed to this report.