WASHINGTON (TND) — The National Hurricane Center (NHC) upgraded the cyclone headed to North Carolina to Tropical Storm Ophelia Friday afternoon. Forecasters issued a hurricane watch for parts of eastern North Carolina, saying Ophelia showed the potential to gather even more strength as it passes over warm Gulf Stream waters. The storm was expected to make landfall in North Carolina on Saturday morning and dump as much as 7 inches (17.7 centimeters) across portions of the state and into southeast Virginia.
The intensifying weather system spun into a tropical storm in the afternoon with maximum sustained winds of 60 mph (95 kph), according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center. A storm surge warning was in effect for some areas, with surges between 3 and 5 feet (0.9 and 1.5 meters) forecast for parts of North Carolina, the hurricane center said.
Rain was already moving inland across North Carolina by midday Friday with some areas expected to get up to 7 inches (17.7 centimeters) across eastern parts of the state and into southeast Virginia, forecasters said. Storm surge warning was in effect for some areas, with surges between 3 and 5 feet (0.9 to 1.5 meters) forecast for parts of North Carolina, the hurricane center reported.
As part of its guidance updating Ophelia to a tropical storm, the NHC warned there is a danger for “life-threatening” storm surge across North Carolina and southern Virginia, primarily in areas around those states’ rivers — there is also the potential for similarly life-threatening rip and surf currents. The agency also warned that the heavy rainfall could trigger “flash, urban and small stream” flooding along the East Coast from parts of South Carolina up through New Jersey as a result of the heavy rainfall.
Gov. Glenn Youngkin of Virginia has already declared a state of emergency for his commonwealth, as the storm is expected to pass through the northeastern parts of North Carolina before landing in southeastern parts of Virginia.
“As this storm has organized and strengthened, it’s becoming clear based on the latest forecasts that impacts to the commonwealth are likely,” Youngkin said in a statement. “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.”
The governor encouraged residents to prepare an emergency kit and follow the weather forecast closely. Maryland Gov. Wes Moore and North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper also made emergency declarations Friday and urged residents to stay vigilant, avoid driving in storm conditions and follow guidance put forth by local officials. Schools in coastal areas of North Carolina and Virginia announced plans to dismiss students early Friday and cancel afterschool and weekend activities.
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.