Tropical Storm Ophelia makes landfall in North Carolina, bringing damaging winds and dangerous water surges

Tropical Storm Ophelia made landfall on the North Carolina coast early Saturday and moved inland, lashing coastal areas with damaging winds and dangerous surges of water, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

Radar, hurricane hunter aircraft and observers on the ground found that Ophelia’s center came ashore at around 6:15 a.m. local time near Emerald Isle with maximum sustained winds of 70 mph, the hurricane center said in an update. That’s roughly 25 miles northwest of Cape Lookout, the center said.

Life-threatening flooding caused by the weather system was forecast for parts of eastern North Carolina and southeastern Virginia, but the system was expected to weaken after landfall, the hurricane center said.

Ophelia is expected to turn north Saturday and then shift northeast on Sunday. The storm promised a weekend of windy conditions and heavy rain up to 7 inches (18 centimeters) in parts of North Carolina and Virginia and 2 to 4 inches (5 to 10 centimeters) in the rest of the mid-Atlantic region through Sunday.

A storm surge warning, indicating danger from rising water moving inland, was in effect from Bogue Inlet, North Carolina, to Chincoteague, Virginia. Surges between 4 and 6 feet (1.2 and 1.8 meters) were forecast in some areas, the hurricane center said.

A tropical storm warning was issued from Cape Fear, North Carolina, to Fenwick Island, Delaware. A hurricane watch was in effect in North Carolina for the area north of Surf City to Ocracoke Inlet, the center reported.

The governors of North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland declared a state of emergency Friday as some schools closed early and several weekend events were canceled.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper issued his state’s emergency declaration, aiming to expedite preparations and help provide a swift response.

“The storm’s path has been difficult to predict and we want to ensure that farmers, first responders and utility crews have the tools necessary to prepare for severe weather,” Cooper said.

The North Carolina Ferry System on Friday suspended service on all routes until conditions improve, officials said.

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s executive order sought to ease response and recovery efforts.

Tropical Storm Virginia
Waves break along the jetty at Rudee Inlet in Virginia Beach, Va., on Friday, Sept. 22, 2023 as Tropical Storm Ophelia approaches the area. KENDALL WARNER/THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT VIA AP

“We want to ensure that all communities, particularly those with the greatest anticipated impact, have the resources they need to respond and recover from the effects of this storm,” Youngkin said, encouraging residents to prepare emergency kits and follow weather forecasts closely.

Maryland Gov. Wes Moore said in a statement Friday evening that the state expected an extended period of strong winds, heavy rainfall and elevated tides.

“We are expecting an extended period of strong winds, heavy rainfall, and elevated tides,” Moore said in a Friday statement.

In Annapolis, Maryland’s capital, water taxi driver Scott Bierman said service would be closed Saturday.

“We don’t operate when it’s going to endanger passengers and or damage vessels,” Bierman said.

Tropical Storm Ophelia
The latest forecast path from the National Hurricane Center for Tropical Storm Ophelia. Sept. 22, 2023.  NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER

Some areas of eastern North Caroline and southeast Virginia could get up to 7 inches of rain, forecasters said. Southern New York and southern New England could see anywhere from 1 to 3 inches of rain into Monday.

Storm surge warnings were in effect for several areas, with surges anywhere between 1 to 6 feet forecast for parts of North Carolina, Virginia, New Jersey and Delaware, the hurricane center reported.

Tropical Storm Ophelia
A satellite image of Tropical Storm Ophelia as seen at 11:14 p.m. EDT on Sept. 22, 2023. NOAA/NESDIS/STAR

A tropical storm warning is in effect from Cape Fear, North Carolina, to Fenwick Island, Delaware. It also includes the Chesapeake Bay south of North Beach, tidal Potomac south of Cobb Island and Albemarle and Pamlico Sounds.

In Washington, the Nationals baseball team postponed its Saturday game until Sunday.

North Carolina Emergency Management warned large swells from distant Hurricane Nigel also would reach the state’s coast on Thursday, boosting the rip current risk. The combination of those swells and the low-pressure system could mean additional ocean overwash, beach erosion and coastal flooding.

Youngkin said the state’s Emergency Support Team will be activated until the storm passes.

“As this storm has organized and strengthened, it’s becoming clear based on the latest forecasts that impacts to the commonwealth are likely,” said Youngkin. “We want to ensure that all communities, particularly those with the greatest anticipated impact, have the resources they need to respond and recover from the effects of this storm. Since this storm has the potential to have a range of impacts across numerous localities in the commonwealth, I encourage all Virginians and visitors to keep up with the latest forecast for their area from a trusted source, make a plan, and have their emergency kits ready.”

The Virginia Department of Emergency Management said on social media Thursday that officials are coordinating with local weather service offices to watch the system developing off the coast.

Meanwhile, Hurricane Nigel was downgraded to a post-tropical cyclone centered about 640 miles northwest of the Azores with maximum sustained winds of 70 mph. There were no associated coastal watches or warnings as the storm moved northeast at 37 mph, the hurricane center said in its final update on the system Friday morning.

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