Tropical storm Ophelia swirled across North Carolina after making landfall near Emerald Isle early Saturday, lashing eastern parts of the state with rain, damaging winds and dangerous surges of water.
The storm came ashore with near-hurricane-strength winds of 110 km/h at about 6:15 a.m. local time and was expected to weaken as it turns north on Saturday and then shifts northeast on Sunday, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.
Tens of thousands of homes and businesses were left without power across several eastern counties as of Saturday morning, according to poweroutage.us, which tracks utility reports.
Life-threatening flooding was forecast for parts of eastern North Carolina and southeastern Virginia. Moving at about 21 km/h, the storm promised a weekend of windy conditions and heavy rain of up to 177 millimetres in parts of the two states, as well as 50 to 100 millimetres 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, N.C., to Chincoteague, Va. Surges of between 1.2 and 1.8 metres were forecast in some areas, the hurricane centre said.
A tropical storm warning was issued from Cape Fear in North Carolina to Fenwick Island in Delaware. A hurricane watch was in effect in North Carolina for the area north of Surf City to Ocracoke Inlet, the centre reported.
3 governors declare state of emergency
The governors of North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland declared a state of emergency on Friday, as some schools closed early and several weekend events were cancelled.
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.
620am EDT 23 September — Tropical Storm <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/Ophelia?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#Ophelia</a> has made landfall near near Emerald Isle in North Carolina with maximum sustained winds of 70 mph.<br><br>Latest: <a href=”https://t.co/Dl4SklCoht”>https://t.co/Dl4SklCoht</a> <a href=”https://t.co/6Kc9cmsS2l”>pic.twitter.com/6Kc9cmsS2l</a>
Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s executive order sought to ease response and recovery efforts.
“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.
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,” he said.
In Washington, D.C., the Nationals baseball team postponed its Saturday game until Sunday.
Peak of hurricane season
It is not uncommon for one or two tropical storms, or even hurricanes, to form off the East Coast each year, National Hurricane Center director Michael Brennan said.
“We’re right at the peak of hurricane season, we can basically have storms form anywhere across much of the Atlantic basin,” Brennan said.
Scientists say climate change could result in hurricanes expanding their reach into mid-latitude regions more often, making storms like this month’s Hurricane Lee more common.
One study simulated tropical cyclone tracks from pre-industrial times, modern times and a future with higher emissions. It found that hurricanes would track closer to the coasts including around Boston, New York and Virginia and be more likely to form along the southeast coast.