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A sprawling tropical storm will bring drenching rains and gusty winds to millions of people this weekend as the official start of fall arrives.
Tropical Storm Ophelia formed off the U.S. East Coast on Friday afternoon before making landfall in North Carolina early Saturday morning, threatening a storm surge of 1.5+ m above ground level across the region’s vulnerable, low-lying communities.
Forecasters are also monitoring a disturbance in the tropical Atlantic that has a high chance of developing into our next named storm heading into the final week of September.
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Storm surge, tropical storm warnings as Ophelia makes landfall
Every hurricane season produces at least one odd storm, and Ophelia seems like it’s going to fill that role this year.
Much like people, low-pressure systems exist on a spectrum that makes it hard to perfectly fit them for labels. Ophelia is one of those hybrids that’s a little bit nor’easter and a little bit tropical storm.
The tropical storm’s gusty winds and heavy rain already spread over North Carolina and Virginia on Friday, and conditions will deteriorate throughout the Mid-Atlantic as Ophelia pushes inland Saturday and Sunday.
It officially made landfall near Emerald Isle in North Carolina around 6:15 am EDT Saturday morning, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC), with estimated, maximum winds of 70 110 km/h.
Widespread tropical storm warnings are in effect as Ophelia moves through, including the popular vacation destinations of Wilmington, N.C.; the N.C. Outer Banks; the Virginia cities of Norfolk, Virginia Beach, and Williamsburg; the southern Delmarva Peninsula including Ocean City, Maryland; and much of the Chesapeake Bay south of Annapolis, Maryland.
Rainfall totals of 40-80 mm are likely up and down the Interstate 95 corridor, including Washington, Philadelphia, and New York. Higher totals are likely closer to the centre of the storm, where flash flooding and isolated tornadoes are possible through Sunday.
Ophelia’s size and duration will push a larger-than-normal storm surge into the coast. Portions of the N.C. coast and Chesapeake Bay could see a storm surge of 1-1.5+ m above ground level. Many communities and highways near the coast are vulnerable to flooding.
Anyone visiting the region this weekend should pay close attention to road closures and flood alerts. Never try to drive across a flooded roadway. It only takes a small amount of water for a vehicle to lose traction, potentially trapping the occupants in a life-threatening situation.
Maritimes likely to miss Ophelia’s rains, watching another storm
Forecasters continue to monitor where Ophelia’s remnant moisture may go next week. Computer models have flip-flopped on how far north the plume of tropical moisture will extend.
It looks likely that the bulk of Ophelia’s remnants will miss just south of the Maritimes, only bringing some light rain accumulations to far southern Nova Scotia.
Once Ophelia exits stage-right, we’ll have a couple of days to breathe before we have to closely watch the next system coming down the pike.
A vigorous disturbance in the eastern tropical Atlantic is likely to become a tropical depression or a tropical storm by early next week as it gradually makes its way west toward the Caribbean.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center gives this system a very high chance of developing by early next week. If the system becomes a tropical storm, it would earn the name Philippe.
It’s been an active hurricane season so far this year, despite a growing El Niño that would typically stunt tropical activity in the Atlantic. A ‘normal’ Atlantic hurricane season would see 14 tropical storms, seven hurricanes, and three major hurricanes.
So far this year, we’ve seen 16 tropical storms with Ophelia’s formation on Friday—including one unnamed storm that formed back in January. Six of those tropical storms strengthened into hurricanes, and three of those hurricanes—Franklin, Idalia, and Lee—achieved major hurricane strength.
Header image courtesy of NOAA.
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