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Saturday, May 25, 2024

Ophelia weakens and moves north, but threat of flooding remains along Mid-Atlantic coast

Tropical Storm Ophelia was downgraded to a post-tropical low on Saturday night but continued to pose a threat of coastal flooding and flash floods in the Mid-Atlantic region, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

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 surges.

At 11 p.m. Saturday, the center said Ophelia, reduced to a weak form of a tropical storm, was located about 30 miles south-southwest of Richmond, Virginia, and about 85 miles southeast of Charlottesville, Virginia. The storm had maximum sustained winds of 35 mph with higher gusts.

Coastal flood warnings and flood watches remained in effect for portions of the region, the center said.

“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 center said.

Areas from Virginia to New Jersey are likely to receive 1 to 3 inches of rain and up to 5 inches in some places, the center said. Some New Jersey shore communities, including Sea Isle City, had already experienced flooding Saturday.

Areas of southeastern New York and southern New England also could receive 1 to 3 inches of rain, while surf swells are expected to affect much of the East Coast through the weekend, the center said.

Philippe Papin, a hurricane specialist with the center, said the primary risk of the storm system going forward will be the threat of floods from the rain.

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

Radar, hurricane hunter aircraft and observers on the ground found that Ophelia’s center came ashore at around 6:15 a.m. local time Saturday near Emerald Isle with maximum sustained winds of 70 mph, the hurricane center said. That’s roughly 25 miles northwest of Cape Lookout, the center said.

Even before it made landfall, the storm proved treacherous enough that five people had to be rescued by the Coast Guard on Friday night from a boat anchored down near the North Carolina coastline.

The governors of North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland declared a state of emergency Friday ahead of Ophelia’s arrival as some schools closed early and several weekend events were canceled.

“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,” Duke Energy spokesperson Jeff Brooks told WTVD-TV on Saturday. “And that’s what we’ve seen in most of the areas where we’ve experienced outages.”

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

Several storm surge and tropical storm warnings for North Carolina, Virginia and Delaware were canceled Saturday night.

Five people, including three children 10 or younger, needed the Coast Guard’s help on the water when conditions worsened Friday. They were aboard a 38-foot catamaran anchored in Lookout Bight in Cape Lookout, North Carolina, 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 using a Coast Guard boat, then helped them aboard and left the sailboat behind. A Coast Guard helicopter lit up the path back to the station. There were no injuries reported.

In Washington, the Nationals baseball team postponed its Saturday game until Sunday.

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

But the storm’s winds tore down the big tent for a banquet that was planned for Saturday and several other tents were damaged or shredded. Cannon Jr. worries the financial hit will be significant, even with people helping clean up and offering to run online fundraisers.

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