Hurricane Irma blasted through Florida over the weekend and what’s now a tropical storm is moving toward Western North Carolina, with rain and wind expected to lash the region this afternoon and tonight. Many events have been canceled and recreation areas closed in the area as authorities take precautions to keep residents and visitors safe.
Flooding, high winds could hit WNC
Buncombe, Haywood, Madison, Yancey, Mitchell and McDowell counties are under a wind advisory until 4 a.m. Tuesday. The National Weather Service says winds of 20 to 30 miles per hour with gusts up to 50 miles per hour could blow down limbs, trees and power lines. Scattered power outages are expected.
Counties to the south could see even greater weather hazards. Henderson, Transylvania, Polk and Rutherford counties are under a high wind warning until 4 a.m. Tuesday, with winds expected to peak this evening with some gusts potentially stronger than 50 miles per hour. Those areas are also under a flash flood watch through tomorrow morning as widespread moderate to heavy rain showers associated with the outer rainbands of Irma move in from the south today. Projected rainfall amounts of 3 to 5 inches could create localized flooding.
UPDATE TUESDAY, SEPT. 12: Asheville City Schools, Buncombe County Schools, Henderson County Schools, Transylvania County Schools, Rutherford County Schools, Yancey County Schools and Jackson County Schools are closed today. Haywood County Schools will operate on a two-hour delay.
Asheville City Schools is dismissing its students early on Monday, Sept. 11, with elementary schools releasing students at 12 p.m. and middle and high school students released at 1 p.m. Buses will be running their regular routes. All after-school activities, including tonight’s board meeting, have been canceled. There will be no athletic games or practices this evening.
Buncombe County Schools students will dismiss two hours early today. Buses will begin their routes, student drivers will be allowed to leave, and parents who pick up their students after school may do so two hours early today. Afternoon activities have been canceled.
Asheville Parks & Recreation afterschool programs are also closed today, as they close whenever schools are closed.
Henderson County Schools announced Sunday night that all its campuses would be closed on Monday. It is an optional teacher workday for staff.
Rutherford and Jackson County schools also closed for the entirety of Monday, and Haywood County Schools closed at noon.
Forests shut down campgrounds
On Monday, the U.S. Forest Service announced the closure of all recreation areas and campgrounds in the Pisgah, Nantahala and Uwharrie national forests, citing concern over winds felling trees and the potential for flooding. In the Asheville region, the Grandfather and Pisgah districts will also see the following road closures starting Monday, Sept. 11:
Grandfather District: Curtis Creek Road (NFSR # 482), Table Rock Road (NFSR # 99), Brown Mountain OHV Trails and Maple Sally Road (NFSR # 187).
Pisgah District: Yellow Gap (#1206), Wash Creek (#5000), Avery Creek (#477), NFSR #475B, Bent Creek (#479) from Ledford Branch trailhead to Blue Ridge Parkway and Courthouse Creek (#140).
The U.S. Forest Service in North Carolina offered the following warning about camping via Twitter on Sept. 11: “We strongly recommend NO camping in backcountry or at dispersed sites while #Irma passes through NC. Your safety is your responsibility.”
The Appalachian Trail Conservancy cautioned hikers against battling stormy conditions on the southern part of the trail. “Predictions from the National Weather Service continue to indicate Irma could reach tropical storm wind speeds when she reaches portions of the Appalachian Trail in Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee beginning as early as Monday afternoon,” it stated on its website. “The Appalachian Trail continues to strongly discourage hikers from staying on the trail in the southern region Sept.11-14.”
Blue Ridge Parkway blocks off sections
The Asheville “commuter zone” of the Blue Ridge Parkway from Craven Gap (MP 377) to Highway191/Brevard Road (MP 393) will be closed starting Monday at 2 p.m. due to forecasted inclement weather associated with the remnants of Hurricane Irma.
The Blue Ridge Parkway is also closing all gated sections from milepost 16, at VA State Route 8, south through North Carolina to milepost 469, at Cherokee. These closures will remain in effect through Tuesday. During the period of closure, the parkway is closed to all traffic, including cyclists and hikers. All parkway visitor facilities between milepost 165 and 469 will also be closed during this time.
Events postponed, fairgrounds shutter
Many events scheduled for Monday and Tuesday in the region have been canceled or postponed. Check with event organizers to confirm any events you plan on attending. In particular, the following closures have been announced.
The N.C. Mountain State Fair, which kicked off Friday and runs through Sept. 17, is closed today. “We have been monitoring the path of Hurricane Irma closely over the past week. For the safety of our fairgoers, exhibitors and staff, we have decided to close the fair on Monday, Sept. 11,” Fair Manager Matt Buchanan stated in a release.
The fairgrounds at the WNC Agricultural Center in Fletcher are closed to everyone except fair staff and emergency personnel starting Monday morning. Fair officials will inspect the fairgrounds Tuesday and assess any damage that may have occurred during the storm. A decision about reopening the fair will be made at that time.
The Asheville Outlets closed at 12 p.m. on Monday due to inclement weather and will reopen at 10 a.m. on Tuesday.
Due to the heavy rain and wind forecast, the Buncombe County Sports Park and all county river parks will close at 6 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 11. That includes: Alexander River Park, Bent Creek, Corcoran Paige, Glen Bridge, Hominy Creek, Ledges Whitewater and Walnut Island.
Help for farmers
The N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has activated its hotline to connect farmers with resources that can assist with agricultural emergencies. The toll-free number is 1-866-645-9403. The hotline operates 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
“There is still uncertainty about how Hurricane Irma will affect our state,” Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler stated in a release. “We anticipate impacts to farms could include power outages, damage to crops and agricultural buildings and animal health emergencies. We are prepared to work with our state and local partners to help our agricultural community if the need arises.”
Farmers can also find recovery resources on the department’s disaster web pages, www.ncagr.gov/disaster.
The following public meetings have been canceled or rescheduled:
- Asheville City Board of Education meeting Monday, Sept. 11 at 6:30 p.m. has been canceled. The next meeting of the Asheville City Board of Education is scheduled for Sept. 25 at 4 p.m. at Montford North Star Academy for a Work Session/Closed Session.
- WNC Regional Air Quality Agency Board meeting Monday, Sept. 11 has been canceled. It has been rescheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 26 at 4 p.m at the Buncombe County Planning and Development Board Room at 30 Valley St.
- The Local Living Economy Working Group has canceled its meeting Monday, Sept. 11.
- Henderson County Public Schools rescheduled its Board of Public Education meeting from tonight to Tuesday, Sept. 12, at 6:30 p.m.
Reporting power outages
The City of Asheville has shared information for citizens who need to report a power outage to Duke Energy.
Asheville Regional Airport flights delayed, cancelled
Asheville Regional Airport reports numerous flight cancellations and delays for Monday evening through Tuesday morning, due to unsafe conditions caused by Tropical Storm Irma. Airline passengers traveling to and from Charlotte, Atlanta, Florida and other areas of the Southeast impacted by Irma are advised to check their flight status at flyavl.com.