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Ian will likely hit South Carolina as a hurricane, forecasters say

People walk to look at the ocean in Tybee Island, Ga., near Savannah, as the effects of Hurricane Ian reached the area early Thursday. The storm is expected to regain some strength over the Atlantic.
Alex Brandon
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AP
People walk to look at the ocean in Tybee Island, Ga., near Savannah, as the effects of Hurricane Ian reached the area early Thursday. The storm is expected to regain some strength over the Atlantic.

Ian is exiting Florida as a tropical storm — but as it moves back over the water, it could regain hurricane status, drawing power from the Atlantic Ocean. Forecasters are warning of a dangerous storm surge and other impacts, from Florida to North Carolina.

"Some slight re-intensification is forecast, and Ian could be near hurricane strength when it approaches the coast of South Carolina on Friday," the National Hurricane Center said early Thursday.

The new round of warnings for the Atlantic Coast comes as residents and emergency crews on the western side of the Florida peninsula take stock of the immense damage done by Ian's massive storm surge and high winds.

"Widespread, life-threatening catastrophic flash and urban flooding, with major to record flooding along rivers, will continue across central Florida," the hurricane center said.

As of 8 a.m. ET, Tropical Storm Ian's center was about 40 miles east of Orlando, Fla.

Ian's winds are around 10 mph shy of hurricane strength

Tropical Storm Ian is leaving Florida on Thursday, heading out over the Atlantic Ocean — where it will regain some of the power it lost passing over land. It's seen here at Thursday's sunrise on the East Coast.
/ NOAA/NESDIS/STAR
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NOAA/NESDIS/STAR
Tropical Storm Ian is leaving Florida on Thursday, heading out over the Atlantic Ocean — where it will regain some of the power it lost passing over land. It's seen here at Thursday's sunrise on the East Coast.

Ian currently has maximum sustained winds of 65 mph, with gusts as high as 70 mph (hurricane-strength winds begin at 74 mph). But as in western Florida, water poses the main threat: Ian will bring a storm surge, and it's heading northeast at only 8 mph, a slow pace that heightens the risk of flood-inducing rainfall.

A wide area will be under threat of flooding and high winds: Ian is now projecting tropical storm-force winds up to 415 miles from its center.

A hurricane watch — meaning hurricane conditions are possible within the area — is in effect along the coastline from Florida and Georgia into South Carolina, stretching from below Jacksonville, Fla., up past Charleston, S.C.

That same area is under warning of a life-threatening storm surge of up to 6 feet.

Forecast track predicts Ian will move inland over S.C.

The current forecast track sees Ian moving out northeast over the ocean as it passes Jacksonville, before turning more to the northwest and making landfall between Savannah, Ga., and Charleston.

Tropical-storm-force winds will start affecting Georgia and South Carolina Thursday, the NHC said. Ian will make landfall on Friday as a strong tropical storm or hurricane, according to the National Weather Service office in Charleston.

The "1st round of coastal flooding" is expected to hit South Carolina with Thursday afternoon's high tide, the NWS office in Charleston reported. Additional flooding will likely continue through Friday, it warned.

Many areas along the coast could also see up to 8 inches of rain, the office said.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.