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Tropical Storm Ophelia Makes Landfall in North Carolina as Coastal Areas Lashed with Heavy Rain

September 23, 2023

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Tropical Storm Ophelia made landfall on the North Carolina coast early Saturday, 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. near Emerald Isle with maximum sustained winds of 70 mph (110 kph), the hurricane center said in an update. That’s roughly 25 miles (40 kilometers) 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.

“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.

Beach-goers brave the weather and walk along the sand at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront on Friday, Sept. 22, 2023, as Tropical Storm Ophelia approaches in Virginia Beach, Va. The storm was gaining strength as it churned toward the North Carolina coast on Friday, promising a weekend of heavy rain and windy conditions throughout the mid-Atlantic. (Kendall Warner/The Virginian-Pilot via AP)

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.

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

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.

Nancy Shoemaker and her husband Bob stopped by a waterside park in downtown Annapolis to pick up sandbags. A water surge in a storm last October washed away sandbags they had in their yard.

“We’re hoping it won’t be that way this time,” Nancy Shoemaker said. “If we have a lot of wind and a lot of surge, it can look like the ocean out there, so that’s a problem.”

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By SARAH BRUMFIELD and BRIAN WITTE Associated Press

Brumfield reported from Silver Spring, Maryland. AP Radio reporter Jackie Quinn in Washington and AP reporter Lisa Baumann in Washington state contributed.

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