Tropical Storm Ophelia makes landfall in North Carolina
Updated September 23, 2023 at 8:41 AM ET
Tropical Storm Ophelia has strengthened before making landfall on the coast of North Carolina early Saturday, pushing out near-hurricane force winds. The storm is forecast to bring high gusts, coastal flooding and life-threatening rip currents northward to New Jersey over the weekend.
The storm made landfall near Emerald Isle, N.C., around 6:15 a.m. ET, with maximum winds of 70 mph, the National Hurricane Center said.
The center issued a hurricane watch from north of Surf City to Ocracoke Inlet in North Carolina, a roughly 130-mile stretch.
Forecasters said the storm is likely to weaken after landfall, the center said.
The governors of Maryland, North Carolina and Virginia declared a state of emergency Friday.
A tropical storm warning remains in effect from Cape Fear, N.C., to Fenwick Island, Del. This includes Albemarle and Pamlico sounds in North Carolina, the Tidal Potomac River south of Cobb Island, Md., and Chesapeake Bay south of North Beach, Md. The region stretching from Surf City to Bogue Inlet in North Carolina, and the remainder of Pamlico and Albemarle Sounds, were under a storm surge watch.
A storm surge warning was also in effect from Bogue Inlet, N.C., to Chincoteague, Va., in Chesapeake Bay south of Colonial Beach, Va., the Neuse and Pamlico rivers and parts of Pamlico and Albemarle sounds.
Between 3 to 5 inches of rainfall is expected across parts of eastern North Carolina and southeast Virginia into Saturday, with as much as 7 inches falling in some areas. The Mid-Atlantic into southern New England, is forecast to get 2 to 4 inches of rainfall from late Friday into Sunday, which could create flash, urban and small stream flooding, forecasters said. Southern New York through southern New England could get 1 to 3 inches from Saturday to Monday.
Floodwaters on the North Carolina coast could reach 6 feet
The swells generated by Ophelia are likely to cause life-threatening surf and rip current conditions across the Mid-Atlantic coastline.
Areas stretching from Surf City N.C., to Chincoteague, Va., could see flooding of 2 to 4 feet if the storm surge peaks along with high tide, forecasters said.
Flooding risks to coastal stretches hemmed in by the Outer Banks are of particular concern, with the Neuse and Bay rivers and the Pamlico and Pungo rivers expected to see floodwaters rise between 4 and 6 feet.
The surge could cause flooding of 2 to 4 feet in the lower Chesapeake Bay and 1 to 3 feet farther up the bay.
Floods are getting more frequent and severe in most of the U.S. because of more extreme precipitation and sea level rise from climate change.
The storm picked up speed as it was upgraded on Friday afternoon from a "Potential Tropical Cyclone 16," as the NHC terms it, to a tropical storm. As of Saturday at 2 a.m. ET, Ophelia was moving 12 mph while about 25 miles southeast of Cape Lookout in North Carolina.
As it continues plotting a northerly path, the NHC said the storm will move across eastern North Carolina, southeastern Virginia, and the Delmarva Peninsula on Saturday and Sunday.
A few tornadoes are possible Friday and Saturday in the mid-Atlantic states, the NHC said.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper and the state's department of public safety urged residents across eastern and central portions of the state to be prepared for tropical weather over the next couple of days. Warning of the potential for downed trees, power outages and flooding, the officials also encouraged people to stay tuned to the latest weather forecasts.
"As tropical weather is threatening our state again, we are reminded of the importance of being prepared by having a family emergency plan and kit," Gov. Cooper said in a statement Thursday.
North Carolina Emergency Management director Will Ray said the department is prepared to provide needed resources.
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