ANNAPOLIS, Maryland – September 24, 2023
Tropical Storm Ophelia, which had been a cause for concern along the U.S. East Coast, was downgraded to a post-tropical low on Saturday night. However, it continued to present a potential threat of coastal flooding and flash floods in the mid-Atlantic region, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center.
As the storm made landfall near a barrier island in North Carolina, it left a trail of flooding, damaging winds, and dangerous surges in parts of coastal North Carolina and Virginia on Saturday. Despite losing its tropical storm status, Ophelia remained a weather system of concern.
At 11 p.m. on Saturday, Ophelia, now reduced to a weak form of a tropical storm, was positioned approximately 30 miles (50 kilometers) south-southwest of Richmond, Virginia, and about 85 miles (135 kilometers) southeast of Charlottesville, Virginia. It carried maximum sustained winds of 35 mph (55 kph), accompanied by higher gusts.
Coastal flood warnings and flood watches remained in effect for various areas within the mid-Atlantic region, as Ophelia’s path continued to influence weather conditions.
According to the National Hurricane Center, “The center of Ophelia is expected to turn toward the north-northeast and northeast, moving across eastern Virginia and the Delmarva Peninsula through Sunday.”
The forecast indicated that areas spanning from Virginia to New Jersey could anticipate receiving 1 to 3 inches (2.5 to 7.6 centimeters) of rainfall, with some locations possibly seeing up to 5 inches (12.7 centimeters). Several New Jersey shore communities, including Sea Isle City, had already reported flooding incidents on Saturday.
Additionally, southeastern New York and southern New England were also expected to experience 1 to 3 inches of rainfall. Alongside the rain, surf swells were forecasted to affect a significant portion of the East Coast throughout the weekend.
Philippe Papin, a hurricane specialist with the National Hurricane Center, emphasized that the primary threat associated with the storm system going forward would be the potential for flooding caused by heavy rainfall. Papin stated, “There have been tropical storm-force winds observed, but those are starting to gradually subside as the system moves further inland. However, there is a significant flooding rainfall threat for a large portion of eastern North Carolina into southern Virginia over the next 12 to 24 hours.”
Ophelia initially made landfall near Emerald Isle, North Carolina, on Saturday morning, bringing with it winds nearing hurricane strength at 70 mph (113 kph). Nevertheless, the storm’s winds began to diminish as it moved northward, according to the National Hurricane Center.
Videos circulating on social media platforms captured riverfront communities in North Carolina, including New Bern, Belhaven, and Washington, grappling with substantial flooding. The extent of the damage caused by the storm was still being assessed.
Even prior to landfall, Ophelia posed a threat significant enough to necessitate a Coast Guard rescue mission on Friday night. Five individuals, including three children under the age of 10, were rescued from a 38-foot (12-meter) catamaran anchored in Cape Lookout, North Carolina, which was trapped in turbulent waters and strong winds. The Coast Guard crew utilized flares to locate the sailboat, assisted the individuals on board, and subsequently left the boat behind. Fortunately, there were no reported injuries.
As of Saturday afternoon, tens of thousands of homes and businesses in various eastern North Carolina counties remained without electricity, according to poweroutage.us, which tracks utility reports. A Duke Energy map revealed scattered power outages across much of eastern North Carolina, as winds led to toppled tree limbs and downed power lines.
Duke Energy spokesperson Jeff Brooks explained, “When you have that slow-moving storm with several inches of rain, coupled with a gust that gets to 30, 40 miles per hour, that’s enough to bring down a tree or to bring down limbs.”
Brian Haines, a spokesperson for the North Carolina Division of Emergency Management, reported downed trees but no major road closures.
In a bid to salvage some of the weekend’s events, Carl Cannon Jr., located at the southern tip of North Carolina’s Outer Banks, expressed hope that the Beaufort Pirate Invasion, a long-running multiday event centered around the 1747 Spanish attack on the town, could proceed. Despite the winds tearing down a large tent planned for a banquet on Saturday and damaging several other tents, Cannon Jr. aimed to stage pirate reenactments on Sunday if weather conditions allowed.
The governors of North Carolina, Virginia, and Maryland declared states of emergency on Friday in anticipation of the storm’s impact.
National Hurricane Center Director Michael Brennan highlighted that it is not uncommon for one or two tropical storms, or even hurricanes, to develop off the East Coast each year. Brennan emphasized, “We’re right at the peak of hurricane season. We can basically have storms form anywhere across much of the Atlantic basin.”
Climate change has raised concerns about the increased frequency of hurricanes reaching mid-latitude regions, making storms like Hurricane Lee, which occurred earlier this month, more commonplace. Scientific studies suggest that hurricanes may track closer to coasts, including areas like Boston, New York City, and Virginia, as a result of these changes.
In some regions affected by the storm on Saturday, the impact was relatively modest. Aaron Montgomery, whose family recently moved to Williamsburg, Virginia, noted a roof leak in their new home but managed to enjoy a trip to Virginia Beach despite strong surf and winds. Montgomery stated, “No leak in a roof is insignificant, so it’s certainly something we have to deal with Monday morning.”
Associated Press reporters contributed to this article, with Mattise reporting from Nashville, Tennessee, AP Radio reporter Jackie Quinn in Washington, and AP writers Ron Todt in Philadelphia, Sudhin Thanawala in Atlanta, and Christopher Weber in Los Angeles.