UDPATE: Tornado watch lifted, wind advisory and gale warning still in effect

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The latest map from the National Weather Service in Wilmington showing the areas under a tornado watch Wednesday afternoon.
A map from the National Weather Service in Wilmington showing the areas under a tornado watch Wednesday afternoon.

UPDATE: 9 p.m., Wednesday

The area is no longer under a tornado watch, but the wind advisory has been extended until midnight. Gusts of 40 to 50 mph have been reported today, including one at Wilmington International Airport that clocked in at 53 mph.

A gale warning remains in effect for marine and coastal areas until noon Thursday.

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UPDATE: 2 p.m., Wednesday

While New Hanover, Brunswick and Pender counties were not affected by the first round of storms that passed to the north earlier this afternoon, another band of severe storms is approaching the area from the west. It is expected to hit coastal southeastern North Carolina between 5 and 8 p.m.

Though a tornado watch remains in effect for the Cape Fear region until 7 p.m., the risk for tornadoes and large hail has decreased from moderate to low. The risk for damaging winds has decreased from high to moderate, but a wind advisory is still in effect until 8 p.m. According to the NWS, the primary threat in the area is wind gusts exceeding 60 mph. The threat of severe weather is greater in inland areas than along the coast.

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UPDATE: 11:30 a.m., Wednesday

A tornado watch has been issued for much of the state, including New Hanover, Brunswick and Pender counties. Forecasters with the National Weather Service say the watch is effect until 7 p.m. Wednesday. For information about tornado preparedness, click here.

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UPDATE: 8:40 a.m., Wednesday

UNC-Wilmington classes will be canceled as of noon Wednesday, and most campus activities scheduled for the evening have been postponed. WAVE Transit shuttle service to and from the campus will shut down at 1 p.m. Classes are expected to resume Thursday morning.

Check below the story for a list of area closings and cancellations. We will keep updating it as more information comes in.

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New Hanover, Brunswick and Pender County public schools will be dismissing classes early Wednesday due to the threat of potentially severe weather headed toward the Cape Fear region.

New Hanover County Schools announced Tuesday afternoon that the school system will release classes early starting with elementary schools at 11:30 a.m., middle and high schools will be dismissed at 12:30 p.m., and early colleges will be released at 1:30 p.m. All after-school programs and activities, including Driver’s Education and athletics programs, scheduled for Wednesday afternoon are also canceled.

“The worst of the weather is expected to impact southeastern North Carolina between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. tomorrow,” New Hanover County Schools Spokeswoman Valita Quattlebaum said. “Our top priority is the safety of students and staff, and therefore, the decision was made to dismiss early to get students and staff home before the storm descends.”

In anticipation of severe weather, Brunswick County Schools will also dismiss early Wednesday for students and staff. High schools in Brunswick County will dismiss at 11:30 a.m., middle schools will dismiss at 11:45 a.m. and elementary schools will be released at 12:30 p.m.

“This dismissal schedule is 15 minutes earlier than our standard early release schedule,” schools spokeswoman Jessica Swencki said. All after-school activities in Brunswick County have also been cancelled.

“Because the timing of the storm is anticipated for the early afternoon hours, district officials want students and staff to be home before the storms arrive. All professional development scheduled throughout the system tomorrow has been cancelled. Staff should report to their regular duty assignments,” Swencki said.

In Pender County, all elementary and middle schools except Topsail Middle School will be dismissed at 11 a.m. Students at Topsail Middle School will be released at noon with all the high schools in the county. All sports and other after-school activities have also been cancelled.

On Wednesday afternoon, NWS forecasters lowered the risk levels for damaging wind, large hail, tornadoes and flooding.
On Wednesday afternoon, NWS forecasters lowered the risk levels for damaging wind, large hail, tornadoes and flooding.

According to forecasters with the National Weather Service, a wind advisory is in effect from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday. Hazardous weather has been predicted for southeast North Carolina and northeast South Carolina. There is a “slight to enhanced risk” for severe thunderstorms Wednesday as a strong cold front approaches and moves across the area.

Severe thunderstorms are likely Wednesday with a risk of damaging winds and isolated tornadoes. The risk for the area increases through Wednesday afternoon. Wind gusts are predicted in the area up to 70 mph. A secondary risk includes the potential for one or more tornadoes and large hail greater than an inch in diameter.

The impact of the storm’s winds could blow down trees, causing blocked roads and power outages. Lawn furniture and trash cans could become airborne, forecasters say.

The timing of the severe weather potential caused forecasters to call on schools and business to review their severe weather safety plans and tornado sheltering procedures.

Other area closings:

  • All campuses of Cape Fear Community College will close to students and staff at 1 p.m. Wednesday. College activities scheduled for this afternoon and evening have been canceled.
  • A UNCW campus forum meeting on the new strategic plan that was scheduled for 3:30 Wednesday has been canceled and will be rescheduled.
  • City of Wilmington government offices will close at 2 p.m. Wednesday. City crews are on standby to address any trees, limbs, or other debris that may fall into a city street. Residents are asked to report any roadway blocks to the city by calling 910-341-7852.
  • All New Hanover County government offices will close at 2 p.m. Wednesday. The closure includes county parks, libraries and the Cape Fear Museum.
  • All Town of Carolina Beach government offices will close at 2 p.m. Wednesday. Freeman Park remains open as conditions allow.
  • All Town of Kure Beach government offices will be closed at 2 p.m. Wednesday.
  • In response to the early closing of New Hanover County schools, all Brigade Boys and Girls Club sites in will also be closed Wednesday to staff and members. The club sites will not provide transportation after school.
  • All government offices in Brunswick County and the Brunswick County Courthouse will close at 1 p.m. Wednesday.
  • Brunswick Community College will close at noon Wednesday and return to a normal class schedule Thursday.
  • Brunswick Senior Resources, Inc. (BSRI) will close at 11:30 a.m. on Wednesday. BSRI will still  provide Meals on Wheels to all current participants, and will be available for emergency meals or other needs after 11:30 a.m. at (910) 632-4600.
  • A meeting of the Small Business Advisory Commission in Brunswick County, originally scheduled for Wednesday night, has been canceled.
  • The Carolina Beach Harbor Commission Meeting scheduled for Wednesday night has been canceled and will be rescheduled at a date to be determined.
  • All New Hanover County ABC Stores will close at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday. Stores will re-open at 9 a.m. Thursday for business.