Area businesses are in preparation mode as Hurricane Irma makes its way toward the U.S. East Coast. Even though its track has shifted west, potential impacts are still unknown, and those in the Wilmington area are advised to stay alert and be prepared, according to Steve Pfaff, warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
Hurricane Irma, while still extremely dangerous, was downgraded to a Category 4 hurricane Friday, according to the latest reports from the weather service.
“At this time, it looks like we will have low-end impacts given the latest track. We still can't afford to let our guard down, however, given the historical track errors,” Pfaff said in an email Friday morning. “Thus, we are recommending that people continue to closely monitor the storm's progression and forecasts.”
A State of Emergency declared Wednesday by Gov. Roy Cooper for all of North Carolina’s 100 counties remained in effect as of Friday.
NWS forecasters recommend being prepared, including getting supplies and reviewing hurricane plans, Pfaff said. The Federal Emergency Management Agency offers several resources online
for those making emergency preparations for their businesses.
Timothy McGlinn, sales manager at Wrigglesworth Enterprises Inc., said the company's ACE Hardware store on South College Road remains stocked with supplies and has kept up with shipments of items such as generators, bottled water, gas cans, batteries, lamp oil and flashlights.
"We’ve had additional deliveries come in to provide what community members need -- during whatever amount of Hurricane Irma we really get -- to keep themselves and their families safe," McGlinn said.
Wrigglesworth Enterprises' business from defense and federal government contracts has seen a boost during the hurricane season, McGlinn said.
“On the government side, we’ve seen an uptick in activities for disaster relief -- items such as insect repellent, sun screen, emergency blankets -- a lot of the consumable items needed to keep a large group of people comfortable in a time like this,” he said. “All around we’re seeing a boost and doing everything we can both locally and across the country to help."
Heavy traffic is expected on state roadways this weekend as people directly in Irma’s path travel north, according to AAA Carolinas. Meanwhile, gas prices in the state have reached their highest point in more than two years, officials with AAA Carolinas said in a release Friday.
The statewide average is currently $2.63, a 40-cent spike since Hurricane Harvey hit. AAA officials said Irma could push them higher. Wilmington’s average was slightly below the state, at $2.62 per gallon Friday.
Those traveling by air should remain current on flight updates, according to officials with the Wilmington International Airport. Gary Broughton, deputy airport director at ILM, said there had been no flights canceled at the airport as of Friday morning.
“We’ve been having regular briefings through the National Weather Service, and of course, it’s still a little early for them to predict anything,” Broughton said. “Fortunately, we have no impacts at this time … there’s no flights canceled. I just spoke with the airlines this morning, and they have no updates, but they will keep us up to speed.”
Broughton suggests travelers check with their airlines and websites to keep up with possible impacts, flight cancellations and waivers.
Officials at the Port of Wilmington are also preparing, according to N.C. Ports spokeswoman Bethany Welch.
Welch said Friday that the port's management team is monitoring Hurricane Irma, but operations both in the water and at the gates remain normal. Some vessels had to change schedules because of the storm, she said, adding that "for the most part all of our vessels are still on schedule."
The threat of a hurricane is shifting operations for those with Atlantic Marine. According to David Floyd, owner of Atlantic Marine, the company went into “storm prep mode” at 11 a.m. Thursday.
That means the company’s employee base of about 40 people is conducting storm storage operations and getting its marina, located on Keel Street in Wrightsville Beach, ready for the potential hurricane threat, he said.
“We’ll start hauling out a lot of our primary customers that have an agreement with us for storm storage. We transport those away from the beach to an off-site facility,” Floyd said.
More than 100 boats that are not normally kept on Atlantic Marine’s site are being transported into its off-site location, a move that takes about two days to complete, he said. Atlantic Marine is also rescheduling boat service operations until the storm passes.
If the region is severely threatened by the hurricane, then the company will also suspend use of boats, and further preparations for its facilities will take place. As of Friday, however, the company was still putting boats in the water.
JBM & Associates, a boat show management company, announced that the second annual Wilmington Boat Show will close early this weekend, at 6 p.m. Saturday instead of continuing on Sunday.
“The weather for Friday and Saturday will continue to be sunny and low 80’s and although the Sunday forecast continues to look good, we feel it is important for our vendors to be able to shut down early and move out Saturday evening to take care of any preparations that might be needed for the next week,” Jacqui Bomar, president and owner of JBM & Associates, said in a release about the show's early closing.