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The eastbound lane on I-26 was blocked off to be opened up at noon for evacuation reversal to Columbia on Monday, Sept. 2, 2019, as Hurricane Dorian threatened the coast. Andrew J. Whitaker/Staff

Take your pick: Matthew or Florence.

Hurricane Dorian is expected to start moving by Tuesday and be off South Carolina by Wednesday night. It could ride up the coast offshore, like Hurricane Matthew in 2016, although Matthew eventually made landfall north of Charleston. There's a chance it could squeak ashore somewhere around the North Carolina line, like Hurricane Florence last year — although from a different direction.

Either way, as it takes that ride up the South Carolina coast Thursday, it's expected to weaken from a very dangerous storm with winds near 110 mph to a dangerous storm with winds at 90 mph.

A hurricane watch was issued for most of the South Carolina coast Monday evening, meaning that winds of at least tropical storm strength can be expected within 48 hours. A hurricane warning was expected to follow by Tuesday, meaning hurricane conditions are expected at least somewhere in the area within 36 hours.

"It’s uncertain at this point exactly where Dorian may track, closer to or farther from the coast than Matthew. Matthew made landfall just north of Charleston, South Carolina as a Category 1 hurricane. Dorian is more likely to make landfall in North Carolina, according to the latest National Hurricane Center forecast," said meteorologist Jeff Masters, with the forecasting company Weather Underground.

dorian 9/2 11 p.m. update

Hurricane Dorian's projected path as of 11 p.m. Monday, Sept. 2. Data provided by NOAA.

The outlook for South Carolina improved marginally as Hurricane Dorian remained virtually stalled over the northern Bahamas Monday night. By 11 p.m. its winds had fallen to 130 mph by 11 p.m. and had been dropping most of the day.

The intensity models are in agreement that Dorian should slowly lose strength during the next several days due to a gradual increase in wind shear and perhaps drier air," said National Hurricane Center specialist John Cangialosi.

"Regardless of the details of the intensity forecast, the bottom line is that Dorian is expected to remain a powerful hurricane as it tracks very near the east coast of the U.S. from Florida to North Carolina during the next few days," he said.

Hurricane center specialists held steady to the storm likely passing offshore South Carolina from late Wednesday through the course of the day Thursday then brushing the North Carolina coast. National Weather Service, Charleston meteorologists began to cautiously call for that.

But, "even a slight deviation to the west of the expected track could bring hurricane conditions to the coast. As a result of this, preparations should be made for direct hurricane impacts along the coast," said weather service meteorologist Pete Mohlin.

If Dorian holds to the expected track, the center, or eye, would pass Charleston about 70 miles out to sea.

"That's way too close for comfort. There is definitely a chance of greater than hurricane force winds along the immediate coast," Mohlin said.

Interestingly enough, the hurricane center track has held valid for several days as computer models forecast for Dorian wobbled, and other professionals were acknowledging that Monday. The center's own model on Monday suggested the hurricane could make landfall north of Charleston.

"Their forecasts have been incredibly consistent," tweeted Ryan Stauffer, a NASA meteorology researcher.

mandatory evacuation was under way along South Carolina's coastal counties noon Monday, as models still showed the possibility that Hurricane Dorian could make landfall in the Carolinas, though the monster storm's path is uncertain. The Georgia coast and parts of Florida also were evacuating.

The storm was expected to turn toward Florida's coastline overnight Monday and begin turning sharply northward. Exactly when and where that turn occurs will be critical.

The storm is expected to move "dangerously close" to the Florida coast overnight Monday, according to the National Hurricane Center. 

"Although the official forecast does not show Dorian making landfall along the Florida east coast, it is still possible for the hurricane to deviate from this forecast, and move very near or over the coast," center meteorologist Richard Pasch reported early Monday morning.  

Dorian was upgraded to a Category 5 storm Sunday, after maximum wind speeds increased from 150 mph to 160 mph. Throughout the morning and early afternoon, those wind speeds climbed to 185 mph, tying the storm for the second-highest winds of any Atlantic hurricane. 

It tore into the Bahamas and churned overhead like a buzzsaw, the destruction serious enough that hurricane center specialist Eric Blake was asking early Monday if any weather sources had information.

"Very little data in (from Bahamas) on Dorian this morning," Blake said.

Hurricane Wire is a pop-up newsletter during hurricane season that delivers anyone who lives on the East Coast all the information they need to know as storms brew in the Atlantic and beyond.

On Monday, the storm's hurricane-force winds extended up to 45 miles from its center, and tropical storm-force winds could be felt up to 150 miles out. The wind field is expected to expand even farther as the storm weakens, the hurricane center said. 

The storm has been pummeling the northwestern Bahamas since early Sunday afternoon, and has almost come to a standstill over Grand Bahama, the country's northernmost island. Video shared over social media showed widespread flooding and devastation, as winds flipped cars, ripped roofs from homes and snapped telephone poles like kindling. 

Masters, of Weather Underground, said Dorian’s stall over the Bahamas increases the probability that the hurricane will turn north in time to miss a direct landfall in Florida. The storm is also expected to begin encountering winds that should shear more strength from it.

The majority of South Carolina’s coast could see between 6 and 10 inches of rain and experience winds up to 80 mph, the NHC said. The Midlands could also see 2 inches of rain and wind gusts up to 50 mph. Storm surge could be 4 feet or higher.

Tidal flooding and strong rip currents at area beaches will continue to be hazards in the Charleston area this week even before the storm approaches, according to meteorologists at the National Weather Service's Charleston office. 

As Dorian slowly inched westward Monday, the risk of storm surge and hurricane-force winds in the Carolinas continued to increase, according to forecasts. 

Gov. Henry McMaster announced the mandatory evacuation of the state's eight coastal counties Sunday evening. Residents of coastal Georgia have also been ordered to evacuate. 

The evacuation order went into effect at noon, with lanes reversed on Interstate 26 from Charleston to Columbia and on U.S. 278 from Hilton Head Island. Traffic appeared light to moderate along I-26 in the immediate aftermath of the reversal. 

Due to the evacuation order, all schools and government offices in the evacuated areas will be closed Tuesday. Closures were already in effect Monday for the Labor Day holiday. 

City and county governments in the Charleston region announced plans to distribute sandbags to residents on Monday, and telephone information lines have been opened to answer residents' questions about storm preparations.

As of 9:30 a.m. Monday, the city of Charleston had already distributed more than 15,000 sandbags. Supplies of sand are being replenished throughout the day, and delivery trucks are traveling with police escorts to expedite the process, officials said.

The city of Charleston opened 12 parking garages without cost, including the Queen Street, Visitor’s Center and Aquarium facilities. The no-charge parking started at noon Monday and continues throughout the storm. 

Reach Emily Williams at 843-937-5553. Follow her on Twitter @emilye_williams.

Emily Williams is a business reporter at The Post and Courier, covering tourism and employment. She also writes the Business Headlines newsletter, which is published twice a week. Before moving to Charleston, her byline appeared in The Boston Globe.