Tropical storm Ophelia makes landfall, as coastal North Carolina hit by flooding

Residents in parts of coastal North Carolina and Virginia experienced flooding on Saturday after tropical storm Ophelia made landfall near a North Carolina barrier island, bringing rain, damaging winds and dangerous surges of water.

The storm came ashore at about 6:15 a.m. local time near Emerald Isle, with near-hurricane-strength winds of 113 km/h. Its winds weakened as it travelled north, with the centre of the storm crossing into Virginia by evening, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said. Ophelia is expected to sweep northeast Sunday along the mid-Atlantic coast to New Jersey.

Videos from social media showed significant flooding in some North Carolina riverfront communities, including New Bern, Belhaven and Washington. The extent of the damage is not known.

Ophelia promises a weekend of windy conditions and heavy rain as it churns up the east coast, with the storm moving north at about 19 km/h as of Saturday evening. Parts of North Carolina and Virginia were expecting up to 13 centimetres of rain, with three to eight centimetres forecast in the rest of the mid-Atlantic region through Sunday. 

Some New Jersey shore communities, including Sea Isle City, had already experienced some flooding on Saturday.

Two people walk in the rain near the Atlantic Ocean.
Beachgoers brave the weather and walk along the boardwalk at the Virginia Beach oceanfront on Friday. (Kendall Warner/The Virginian-Pilot/The Associated Press)

Philippe Papin, a hurricane specialist with the centre, said flooding will be the primary risk over the next couple of days.

“There have been tropical storm-force winds observed, but those are starting to gradually subside as the system moves further inland,” Papin said early Saturday. “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.”

Power outages spread through more states beyond North Carolina, where tens of thousands of homes and businesses remained without electricity across several eastern counties as of Saturday afternoon, according to, which tracks utility reports. A Duke Energy map showed scattered power outages across much of eastern North Carolina, as winds toppled tree limbs and snagged power lines.

Brian Haines, a spokesperson for North Carolina Emergency Management, said there were also reports of downed trees but no major road closures.

A satellite image shows a tropical storm moving over land in North Carolina.
A satellite image provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows Ophelia making landfall on Saturday in North Carolina. (NOAA/The Associated Press)

A storm surge warning, indicating danger from rising water pushed inland by Ophelia, was in effect from Ocracoke Inlet, N.C., to Colonial Beach, Va. 

Surges between 0.6 and 1.2 metres were forecast in some areas. A tropical storm warning was issued from Cape Fear in North Carolina to Fenwick Island in Delaware, including parts of the Chesapeake Bay and tidal areas of the Potomac River.

Five people, including three children 10 or younger, needed the U.S. Coast Guard’s help on Friday. They were aboard a 12-metre catamaran anchored in Lookout Bight in Cape Lookout, N.C., and became stuck in choppy water with strong winds.

According to the Coast Guard, the sailboat’s owner called them on a cellphone, prompting a nighttime rescue mission in which the crew used flares to navigate to the five people. There were no injuries reported.

The Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C., overflows the banks, amid rainfall from tropical storm Ophelia on Saturday.
The Tidal Basin resevoir in Washington, D.C., overflows the banks amid rain from tropical storm Ophelia on Saturday. (J. David Ake/The Associated Press)

At the southern tip of North Carolina’s Outer Banks, Carl Cannon Jr. said he hopes he can salvage some of this weekend’s long-running Beaufort Pirate Invasion, a multi-day event centring on the 1747 Spanish attack on the town.

He said three ships battle it out and attack the shore, and Blackbeard even gets beheaded (though the real-life pirate was actually killed decades before the Spanish attack).

But the storm’s winds tore down the big tent for the banquet planned for Saturday and several other tents were damaged or shredded. Cannon Jr. worries the financial hit will be significant.

He hopes that soggy, windy conditions will allow for pirate re-enactors to clash Sunday in Beaufort.

Elsewhere, the impact was more modest.

Aaron Montgomery, 38, said as the rain started coming down hard on Saturday, he noticed a leak in the roof of the home his family just moved into in Williamsburg, Va.

Still, they were able to safely make the hour-long drive for his wife’s birthday to Virginia Beach, where he said the surf and wind was strong but it had stopped raining.

“No leak in a roof is insignificant, so it’s certainly something we have to deal with Monday morning,” he said.

3 governors declare state of emergency

The governors of North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland declared a state of emergency on Friday.

It is not uncommon for one or two tropical storms, or even hurricanes, to form off the east coast each year, U.S. 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 Friday.

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.

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