ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Tropical Storm Ophelia was downgraded to a post-tropical depression Saturday evening but continued to pose a threat of coastal flooding and flash flooding in the mid-Atlantic region, the National Hurricane Center said the United States.
Residents in parts of coastal North Carolina and Virginia experienced flooding Saturday after the storm made landfall near a North Carolina barrier island, bringing rain, damaging winds and dangerous waves.
As of 11 p.m. Saturday, the center reported that Ophelia, reduced to a weak form of a tropical storm, was about 30 miles (50 kilometers) south-southwest of Richmond, Virginia, and about 85 miles (135 kilometers) south southeast of Charlottesville, Virginia. . The storm had maximum sustained winds of 35 mph (55 km/h) with higher gusts.
Coastal flood warnings and flood watches remained in effect for parts of the region, the center said.
“The center of Ophelia is expected to turn toward the north-northeast and northeast, crossing eastern Virginia and the Delmarva Peninsula through Sunday,” the center said.
Areas from Virginia to New Jersey are expected to receive 1 to 3 inches (2.5 to 7.6 centimeters) of rain and up to 5 inches (12.7 centimeters) in some places, the center said. Some coastal communities in New Jersey, including Sea Isle City, had already experienced flooding on Saturday.
Areas of southeastern New York and southern New England could also receive 1 to 3 inches of rain, while rolling waves are expected to affect much of the East Coast throughout of the weekend, the center said.
Philippe Papin, a hurricane specialist at the center, said the main risk of the storm system developing will be the threat of flooding from rain.
“Tropical storm-force winds were observed, but they are starting to gradually ease as the system moves inland,” Papin said in an interview Saturday morning. “However, there is a significant threat of flooding rains over much of eastern North Carolina into southern Virginia over the next 12 to 24 hours.”
The storm made landfall near Emerald Isle, North Carolina, Saturday morning with near hurricane force winds of 70 mph (113 kph), but the winds weakened as the system was moving north, the center said.
Videos posted on social media showed riverside communities in North Carolina, such as New Bern, Belhaven and Washington, facing significant flooding. The extent of the damage was not immediately clear.
Even before landing, Ophelia proved treacherous enough that five people, including three children aged 10 or younger, had to be rescued by the Coast Guard on Friday evening. They were aboard a 40-foot catamaran anchored at Lookout Bight in Cape Lookout, North Carolina, stuck in rough waters and high winds.
The sailboat’s owner called the Coast Guard on a cell phone, triggering a nighttime rescue mission in which the crew used flares to navigate to the sailboat, helped those on board, and left the boat behind him. A Coast Guard helicopter lit the path to the station. No injuries have been reported.
Tens of thousands of North Carolina homes and businesses remained without power in several eastern counties as of Saturday afternoon, according to poweroutage.us, which tracks utility reports. A map from Duke Energy showed scattered power outages across much of eastern North Carolina as winds toppled tree branches and snagged power lines.
“When you have this slow-moving storm with several inches of rain, coupled with a gust that reaches 30, 40 miles per hour, that’s enough to bring down a tree or knock down branches,” the Duke spokesperson said Energy, Jeff Brooks, at WTVD. -TV on Saturday.
Brian Haines, a spokesman for the North Carolina Division of Emergency Management, said there were reports of downed trees, but no major road closures.
At the southern tip of North Carolina’s Outer Banks, Carl Cannon Jr. said he hoped to salvage part of this weekend’s pirate invasion of Beaufort, a multi-day event centered on the Spanish attack on 1747 against the city. The winds tore down the large tent for a banquet planned for Saturday and several other tents were damaged or shredded.
Cannon Jr. hoped soggy and windy conditions would allow the Pirate Reactors to compete Sunday in Beaufort. “If I manage to get the boats out, we will have an attack and people will fight on the shore,” he said.
The governors of North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland each declared states of emergency on Friday.
It’s not uncommon for one or two tropical storms, or even hurricanes, to develop off the East Coast each year, said Michael Brennan, director of the National Hurricane Center.
“We are at the height of hurricane season. Basically, storms can form anywhere across much of the Atlantic basin,” Brennan said in an interview Friday.
Scientists say climate change could cause the reach of hurricanes to extend into mid-latitude regions more frequently, making storms like this month’s Hurricane Lee more frequent.
One study simulated the trajectories of tropical cyclones from pre-industrial times, modern times and a future with higher emissions. It was found that hurricanes would move closer to shore, particularly around Boston, New York and Virginia, and would be more likely to form along the southeastern coast.
In some areas where the storm hit Saturday, the impact was modest. Aaron Montgomery, 38, said he noticed a leak on the roof of his family’s new home in Williamsburg, Virginia. They were still able to make the hour-long drive for his wife’s birthday to Virginia Beach, where he said the waves and wind were strong but the rain had stopped.
“No leak in a roof is insignificant, so it’s definitely something we’ll have to address Monday morning,” he said.
Mattise reported 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 contributed.
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