Tropical Storm Ophelia made landfall on the coast of North Carolina Saturday morning, nearing hurricane strength, battering a broad stretch of the mid-Atlantic coast with blistering winds, heavy rains, and dangerous storm surge.
The center of Ophelia reached Emerald Isle around 6:15 a.m. ET with maximum winds estimated at 70 mph, just a few mph shies of reaching hurricane status, according to the NHC.
However, Ophelia’s impacts extended far beyond its storm center, with Tropical Storm Warnings covering 7 million along the eastern seaboard as the storm approached communities east of Interstate 95.
Tropical Storm Ophelia Strikes North Carolina
A three-hour radar displayed ongoing showers and storms. Severe Thunderstorm Warnings are indicated in yellow, Tornado Warnings in red, confirmed tornado warnings in purple, Flash Flood Warnings in green, and Flash Flood Emergencies in pink.
Heavy rainfall, gusty winds, and coastal flooding are expected to affect communities from the Tar Heel State to the Delmarva Peninsula over the next 36 hours.
Where is Tropical Storm Ophelia?
The storm is currently moving onto the southeastern coast of North Carolina near Emerald Isle and just west of Morehead City. Ophelia is moving north-northwest at 9 mph and has maximum sustained winds of around 70 mph.
Where are the warnings for Tropical Storm Ophelia?
Tropical Storm Warnings span from near Cape Fear, North Carolina, north through all of coastal North Carolina, Virginia, and Maryland to southern Delaware, including Albemarle and Pamlico sounds in North Carolina and parts of Chesapeake Bay.
A Tropical Storm Warning is issued when tropical-storm-force winds (39-plus mph) are expected in the warning area within 36 hours. These winds may be accompanied by storm surge and coastal flooding.
While the cyclone is expected to remain below hurricane strength, a Hurricane Watch has been issued for the coast of North Carolina from north of Surf City to Ocracoke Inlet.
More than 7 million residents are under some type of tropical weather alert from North Carolina to the Delmarva Peninsula.
Coastal communities from North Carolina to the Delmarva Peninsula are either under a Storm Surge Warning or Watch. The combination of a dangerous storm surge and the tide will cause normally dry areas near the coast to be flooded by rising waters moving inland from the shoreline.
The highest storm surge levels are expected in eastern North Carolina, with a storm surge of 3-5 feet anticipated.
“We also have Storm Surge Watches because the Storm Surge Watch means that the water could be more than 3 feet above high tide,” said FOX Weather Hurricane Specialist Bryan Norcross. “When we look at that in more detail, we see that it’s up to 3 feet down there – northern South Carolina into North Carolina. Then on Cape Hatteras, that’s where the kind of the peak of this is – Cape Hatteras and then up north. So we’re talking about in Pamlico Sound and then also up into Chesapeake Bay and the southern half of Chesapeake Bay.”
Meanwhile, in the farther inland waters, Coastal Flood Advisories are in effect Friday night into Saturday morning, including Washington, D.C.
Some shoreline inundation of up to about a half foot is expected in the nation’s capital along parts of the seawall adjacent to Ohio Drive and Hains Point Loop Road, according to the National Weather Service. Farther south, closer to the ocean, waters may rise 1–3 feet above tidal levels. Coastal flooding of 1–3 feet is also anticipated along the shores of Delaware and much of New Jersey.
What’s the forecast for Tropical Storm Ophelia?
The NHC has forecasted Ophelia to move north-northeast and make landfall over eastern North Carolina early Saturday morning. Ophelia is expected to maintain tropical storm strength and travel north along the coast of Virginia and Maryland.
After the cyclone starts to feel the impacts of land, the potential tropical cyclone is expected to weaken and become a post-tropical cyclone by Sunday.
Regardless of the classification, impacts will be felt along much of the Interstate 95 corridor, including Washington, D.C., and New York City.
What are the impacts of Tropical Storm Ophelia? Ophelia will dump heavy rain on the mid-Atlantic and lash the area with strong winds and life-threatening storm surge along the coast, as well as produce heavy rain and even the possibility of isolated tornadoes.
“There is the potential for life-threatening storm surge inundation from Surf City, North Carolina to Chincoteague, Virginia, the Pamlico and Albemarle Sounds, and the lower Chesapeake Bay,” the NHC wrote.
Several inches of rain are expected to fall from North Carolina to the Northeast and New England during the event, and strong winds pushing in from the ocean could cause coastal flooding. NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center has also issued a Level 2 out of 5 risk for severe thunderstorms, including a risk of tornadoes, for coastal North Carolina on Friday.
Two to 4 inches of rain, with locally higher amounts of up to 7 inches, are forecast across eastern portions of the mid-Atlantic states from North Carolina to New Jersey.
“Heavy rainfall from this system could produce localized urban and small stream flooding impacts across the eastern mid-Atlantic states from North Carolina to New Jersey Friday through Sunday,” wrote the NHC.
Parts of the Northeast and southern New England could also see rainfall totals of 2–3 inches with locally higher amounts.
Power outages are also a concern due to the whipping winds that could bring down trees onto power lines.
Impacts from Ophelia Overwash was reported along State Highway 12 that runs through the Outer Banks. The North Carolina Department of Transportation stated, “Our crews are out clearing sand and water from the roadway where they can. The road is open and passable, but if you must be out today, drive with extreme caution as there will be sand and water on the roadway, as well as our heavy equipment. Slow down, stay safe!”
Winds are reported to have gusted to over 60 mph near Jacksonville, North Carolina, and the Outer Banks.
State Highway 12 in Cedar Island, North Carolina, was flooded on Friday by Ophelia’s storm surge. Coastal flooding of the roadway is common during significant storms such as hurricanes, strong tropical storms, and nor’easters.
NCDOT advised that if drivers must venture out, they should use extreme caution, especially on rural, coastal roads.
Many ferries to the Outer Banks have been suspended due to marine conditions, and the aviation sector is not immune from impacts.
Several airlines, including Delta, United, and Southwest, have issued travel advisories, warning of potential flight delays along the East Coast.
More than 25,000 power outages were reported in North Carolina and Virginia as of Saturday morning.
With information from Fox Weather