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East Coast on alert for Tropical Storm Ian's impacts

By Courtney Travis, Accuweather.com

AccuWeather meteorologists warn that the tropical system they have been tracking for nearly a week will not only threaten to cause damage in Florida, but it could also bring widespread impacts to the East Coast.

For the first half of the new week, Ian is expected to intensify rapidly over the northwestern Caribbean Sea and the eastern Gulf of Mexico, strengthening to a major hurricane. Portions of Florida could be dealing with days of heavy rain, damaging winds and coastal inundation from Ian.

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Florida looks like it could bear the most extreme impacts, especially where Ian makes landfall midweek. However, for the second half of the week and into next weekend, Ian's tropical impacts could reach other states across the Southeast and into the mid-Atlantic.

Conditions are likely to start to deteriorate across southern Georgia as early as Wednesday night, as Ian's outer bands slowly push northward from Florida into the state. By Thursday morning, tropical-storm-force winds are likely across the southern half of the state.

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"While Ian will lose wind intensity as it moves over northward over land, portions of Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina will get very strong winds," explained AccuWeather Meteorologist Thomas Geiger.

Places in far southern Georgia can have wind gusts of 80-100 mph while wind gusts in most of southeastern Georgia and southeastern South Carolina, including cities such as Charleston, S.C., and Savannah, Ga., could reach 60-80 mph.

Gusty winds could bring significant delays to travel, both in the air and on the roadways. High-profile vehicles driving at higher speeds along Interstates 85 and 95 should be alert for stronger wind gusts.

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No matter how quickly Ian loses wind intensity, tropical rainfall is forecast to impact more than half a dozen states into Saturday.

"Confidence is growing for Ian to be a significant rain producer across Florida and part of the Southeast, especially if its forward movement slows down," said AccuWeather Meteorologist Renee Duff.

Duff explained that the threat of flooding may extend as far northward as the Carolinas heading into next weekend.

Based on recent rainfall across the mid-Atlantic, areas in eastern North Carolina, eastern Virginia and the Delmarva Peninsula could have an increased risk of flooding. These areas have been abnormally dry or are in a moderate drought, according to the most recent update from the U.S. Drought Monit

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Rainfall is on the way for such locations, but fortunately, the heaviest rain may miss the area. The highest rain amounts are forecast along the center and to the east of Ian as it moves northward through the East Coast states. Widespread rainfall amounts of 2-4 inches are expected through much of Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and southern Virginia, including in the Appalachian Mountains. Cities such as Roanoke, Va., to Raleigh and Charlotte, N.C., and Augusta, Ga., could all receive several inches of rain.

"Outside of Florida, coastal Georgia and South Carolina along with southeastern North Carolina are expected to get the most rain from Ian. In this zone, 4-8 inches of rain is expected as repeated heavy rain bands receive extra enhancement from the warm Gulf Stream waters of the Atlantic Ocean," said Geiger.

Coastal flooding is also a concern across portions of the East Coast. The combination of Ian moving inland and an area of high pressure off the Northeast will make for persistent onshore winds from Virginia to Georgia. Rough surf, strong rip currents and beach erosion could be a concern for the beaches in this zone.

Another threat that could target this same area is severe weather.

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"An often forgotten risk of hurricanes is the threat of tornadoes. Given how hurricanes rotate, it is not uncommon for tornadoes to spin up within the rain bands," said Geiger.

While tornadoes in this scenario are often short-lived and relatively weak, it is not out of the question that there will be a few stronger ones. The locations most susceptible to tornadoes are those to the east of the tropical system's center. Given the current track, places in Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina could be at risk for a few tornadoes.

Farther north, AccuWeather meteorologists continue to monitor what impacts might reach into the northeastern United States.

The widespread nature of the impacts to the Northeast, mainly tropical rainfall, will depend heavily on the exact trajectory of Ian through next weekend. There will be a lot of dry air in the region prior to Ian's arrival. It's possible this could minimize the amount of rain the area receives or even steer it west toward the Appalachians and Ohio Valley.

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