Tropical Storm Ophelia makes landfall along the North Carolina coast

Ophelia made landfall near Emerald Isle, North Carolina, as a strong tropical storm with 70-mph maximum sustained winds around 6:15 a.m. EDT Saturday. Tropical storm conditions were occurring along the coast of North Carolina, and conditions will continue to deteriorate farther to the north as the storm tracks inland.

As the system treks northward over land this weekend, flooding rain, strong winds, storm surge and dangerous seas will continue to unfold from parts of the Southeast to the mid-Atlantic, AccuWeather meteorologists say.

As Ophelia strengthened off the coast on Friday afternoon, a hurricane watch was issued for portions of eastern North Carolina. Tropical storm and storm surge warnings were in effect for portions of the coast from South Carolina to the Chesapeake Bay area of the mid-Atlantic. Ophelia was situated 25 miles west-northwest of Cape Lookout, North Carolina, packing maximum sustained winds of 70 mph -- just 4 mph shy of hurricane force -- as of 6:20 a.m. EDT Saturday.

Conditions continued to deteriorate across coastal areas of North Carolina on Friday evening and overnight, as accurately predicted by AccuWeather forecasters, who have been warning for days about the system and its impacts.

Tropical Storm Ophelia was bearing down on North Carolina on Saturday morning, Sept. 23, 2023 as seen on AccuWeather Enhanced RealVue™ Satellite.

Ophelia will move north-northwestward across eastern North Carolina on Saturday. It will continue to push northward and then northeastward across eastern Virginia into Sunday as it loses wind intensity over land. Ophelia will emerge from the mid-Atlantic coast near southern New Jersey as a tropical rainstorm early on Monday.

Ophelia will spread drenching downpours, strong gusts, pounding surf and ocean, sound and bay flooding northward along the Atlantic coast from North Carolina to New Jersey, southeastern New York and southern New England into this weekend.

Because of the close proximity of the system, impacts will be much more significant when compared to Hurricane Lee which passed offshore last week.

The storm is expected to be a 1 on the AccuWeather RealImpact™ Scale for Hurricanes in terms of impacts in the United States due to the magnitude of wind damage, power outages, storm surge flooding, coastal erosion, freshwater flooding and disruptions to commerce and travel expected in the region.

"People in coastal areas should take this storm seriously," Rayno said. "This is going to be a nasty and formidable storm."

Windy conditions will continue to expand northward and increase into Saturday.

Widespread tropical storm-force gusts of 40-60 mph will impact areas from eastern North Carolina to southern New England. In immediate coastal areas of North Carolina, gusts of 60-80 mph are likely with an AccuWeather Local StormMax™ gust of 85 mph possible.

Winds of this strength are likely to trigger localized regional power outages. Some roads may become blocked with high water, fallen tree limbs and other debris.

Should the storm track right along the coast or just inland, a significant amount of water may be pushed into the Chesapeake and Delaware bays, which could result in moderate coastal flooding at times of high tide, as opposed to minor coastal flooding.

A storm surge of 1-3 feet will occur from southeastern New York to South Carolina. However, a storm surge of 3-6 feet is likely from North Carolina to eastern Virginia with locally higher water levels.

One area where flooding could reach major proportions is in southeastern Virginia, where runoff from heavy rain teams up with storm surge through Saturday night.

As with any tropical system that makes landfall, there is the potential for severe thunderstorms and the risk of a few tornadoes and waterspouts to be spawned. The greatest risk of severe weather will be near and to the east and northeast of where the storm moves inland.

Conditions will continue to worsen along the mid-Atlantic coast as the system moves northward. Dangerous seas are likely, and rough surf may lead to beach erosion through Saturday. Rip currents will be strong and frequent.

The storm will spread heavy rain far to the northwest at least as far as the Interstate 95 corridor of the mid-Atlantic, which means highway slowdowns, airline delays and perhaps flight cancellations. Urban flooding is likely.

Some of the major cities that will be affected include Richmond, Virginia; Washington, D.C.; Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York City and even Boston.

It is possible that a wedge of dry air may keep the heaviest rain confined to the southwest and to the southeast of the Big Apple, but rain is still likely to envelop the New York City metro area for a time on Saturday, AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Brett Anderson said.

That dry air may expand across southeastern New England later this weekend after an initial dose of rain on Saturday. The main zone of rain may persist over the mid-Atlantic and farther to the west during much of the weekend.

The combination of rain, breezy to windy conditions and other factors will send AccuWeather RealFeel® Temperatures into the 50s at times this weekend, fitting for the first couple of days of autumn.


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"There is some question as to how far west the rain will get, and that depends on the exact track of the storm," AccuWeather Meteorologist Dan Pydynowski said. Some data suggests that heavy rain may push as far to the west as the spine of the Appalachians and could even linger for a time, should the storm's forward speed slow down.

If a more inland track occurs, winds will tend to diminish rather quickly, but areas of rain may spill to the west of the Appalachians and persist over the mid-Atlantic region and the central Appalachians through the weekend.

There is another area of interest for which AccuWeather has noted not only a high risk of tropical development but also the likelihood of becoming a hurricane in the coming days.

On Friday into Saturday, that storm continued to show a significant amount of thunderstorm activity several hundred miles to the west-southwest of a group of islands off the coast of Africa called Cabo Verde.

There is some indication that this feature will track farther to the west than the recent Hurricane Nigel did and could be of concern for the northeastern Caribbean islands, Bermuda and perhaps the United States with indirect impacts.

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