Heavy rainfall ahead of Hurricane Michael will begin today with the heaviest bands of rain affecting the central part of the state on Thursday.

By the time the storm arrives on Thursday, it will likely have been downgraded to a tropical storm.

Total rainfall of 3 to 6 inches is expected across most of central North Carolina by early Friday morning, accompanied by wind gusts that could reach 40 mph.

Rain in some areas may fall at a rate of one half to 1 inch per hour.

Most of central North Carolina, including Wayne County, is under a flash flood watch from 6 a.m. Thursday until 5 a.m. Friday.

Wayne County and portions of the Sandhills and Coastal Plain are under a tropical storm watch, which means tropical storm-force winds are possible somewhere within this area within the next 48 hours.

The potential exists for winds of 39 to 57 mph.

Today’s rain is not directly associated with Michael, but instead from a non-tropical system off the coast that will travel up into the Carolinas, said Nicholas Petro, warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Raleigh.

Today’s rainfall should only be a small portion of the total, he said.

After that system passes through, outer rain bands from Michael will arrive by late Thursday. By Friday morning, Michael should move off the North Carolina and Virginia coast.

The Wayne County Office of Emergency Services is monitoring the storm’s track.

“With the latest National Weather Service briefing, Wayne County is expecting heavy rain and wind gusts — much like a severe thunderstorm,” said Joel Gillie, Wayne County public affairs media manager. “Some minor river flooding could be experienced after this storm between Friday and Saturday.

“As is normal with hurricanes, timing and impacts are still changing with every briefing from the National Weather Service. Updates on Hurricane Michael from the Office of Emergency Services will be released if needed based on changing information.”

As of Tuesday afternoon, the county’s emergency operations center had not been activated.

However, emergency management staff is ready to activate if need be, Gillie said.

The state emergency operations center is expected to activate today to monitor the storm and will be ready to respond if needed.

The state emergency management staff is coordinating with the counties and state emergency response team partners to identify potential needed resources, said N.C. Emergency Management Director Mike Sprayberry.

State emergency management officials are also in contact with the National Hurricane Center and federal emergency management officials.

Michael is primarily a flood concern, even though there will be some gusty winds and the possibility of an isolated tornado or two mainly in southeastern counties.

“I want to remind folks this will be faster moving than Florence,” Petro said. “With Florence, we were forecasting rainfall amounts of feet in some cases.”

Rainfall amounts should be lower because Michael is moving more quickly, and flooding should be less widespread than it was during Florence, he said.

The strongest rains are expected to be south and east of Raleigh Thursday and Thursday night, Petro said.

That poses a risk for poor-drainage and flash-type flooding, with river flooding a concern Friday into Saturday, he said.

Four to 6 inches of rain is going to cause problems if it all comes down in a short period of time, Petro said.

“Four to 6 inches of rain now would be different if Florence hadn’t occurred,” he said. “Florence occurred just a few weeks ago. The grounds are saturated still.

“We could see a quicker response in the rivers than we otherwise would had Florence not happened.”

The Neuse River was at 13.4 feet at noon Tuesday, but is expected to drop to about 10 feet by 2 p.m. Thursday.

The river is then expected to begin rising reaching 17.9 feet by early Sunday afternoon.

The flood stage is 18 feet.

The river crested at 27.60 feet on Sept. 19 following Florence.

There could be some downed trees especially since there are still ones that were weakened by Florence, Petro said. That could result in power outages, he said.

Wind gusts between 15 and 20 mph are possible by noon today with gusts between 10 and 20 overnight.

By 11 a.m. Thursday, wind gusts are expected to be in the mid-20s, increasing to possibly 40 mph by 2 p.m., Petro said.

“As the storm center basically rides up I-95 by late day Thursday, some gusts may be 30 to 40 and there may be slightly higher gusts mainly south and east of Durham,” he said.

As of 5 p.m. Tuesday, Hurricane Michael had maximum sustained winds of 120 mph. It was about 295 miles south of Panama City, Florida, moving north at 12 mph.

It is expected to make landfall over the Florida Panhandle early this afternoon and then track northeast through Georgia and the Carolinas.

Download the Ready NC app or visit ReadyNC.org to follow weather updates and learn about how you can prepare for the storm.