Tropical Storm Ophelia makes landfall in N.C.; flooding, strong winds to hit Hampton Roads

Corinne Saunders/The Virginian-Pilot/TNS

This story is part of a weather partnership with WTKR News 3.

Hampton Roads can expect constant rainfall, strong winds and flooding today as Tropical Storm Ophelia slowly makes its way northward.

Ophelia made landfall at 6:20 a.m. near Emerald Isle in North Carolina with maximum sustained winds of 70 mph. National Weather Service meteorologist Eswar Iyer said Ophelia will continue to move northward through the day and that Hampton Roads residents can expect continued rain showers.

Hampton Roads experienced moderate to major tidal flooding with a top high tide earlier this morning, according to Iyer. Throughout the day, there could be flooding of 2-4 feet in flood-prone areas, and a storm surge warning is in effect. The National Weather Service also warns of tidal flooding during the afternoon/evening high tide cycle.

Kristy Steward, a meteorologist with WTKR, said storm activity will come “in waves” throughout the day and that there is a threat of a spin-up tornado in Hampton Roads as Ophelia moves north.

She said the tornado threat should diminish in the afternoon once one of the larger bands of the storm passes through. Steward said the center of this storm should be moving through the area’s inland communities early afternoon. A flood watch will be in effect until 4 a.m. Sunday.

Steward is urging people to be “vigilant” on roadways.

“I think flooding is going to be the primary concern,” Steward said. “So I would say during high tide at 3 p.m. today and a few hours around that high tide, really be careful on roadways, especially those typical flood prone areas which will likely have roads that are impassable. So if you come across a flooded roadway, turn around and don’t try to cross it, because we’ve seen plenty of cars getting stuck in this flooding already.”

Winds are considered hurricane force when they’re over 74 mph. Steward said Ophelia turning into a hurricane is “off the table” as it made landfall at 70 mph and will weaken as it moves over land. She said things should “rapidly improve” on Sunday.

“We should be pretty dry throughout Sunday,” she said. “And we should be able to see some sunshine out there as well.”

The National Weather Service says that improving conditions are expected in Hampton Roads tomorrow, with diminishing wind and rain chances and tidal flooding to drop off.

On Friday, Gov. Glenn Youngkin declared a state of emergency in Virginia as the region braced for the storm to hit. The declaration allowed the state to prepare resources and equipment to respond to the storm.

The National Hurricane Center warned that potentially damaging winds, dangerous storm surge, and life-threatening flash flooding is expected across portions of eastern North Carolina and southeast Virginia.

At 7:45 a.m., Dominion Energy reported some customer outages in Hampton Roads, including 2,297 in Virginia Beach, 1,442 out in Newport News, 1,229 out in Hampton, 1,025 in Chesapeake, 455 in Norfolk, 337 out in Portsmouth, 212 out in Suffolk.

Dominion Energy reported Saturday morning that Ophelia had its biggest impact so far in the company’s Eastern region – Hampton Roads and northeastern North Carolina. Since 3:30 p.m. Friday, more than 60,000 customers have lost power, with 22,000 out at the storm’s peak around midnight. As of 8:00 a.m. today, nearly 9,000 customers remain without power.

According to Dominion, the hardest hit areas so far have been Virginia Beach, the Peninsula, Suffolk and Portsmouth from damage caused by the wind, trees, and tree limbs.

Shortly after 9 a.m., Norfolk advised residents avoid making any unnecessary trips. Norfolk government crews are clearing tree limbs and debris from the roadways as Dominion Energy addresses downed power lines. The Hampton government reported that Tropical Storm Ophelia caused flooding in Hampton’s low-lying areas overnight, but said the city did not see major damage.

Overnight Hampton flooding was reported on Pembroke near River Street, Beach Road, Eagle Point Road, Dandy Point, Gilbert Street, and Armistead Avenue. The city says some of those may flood again this afternoon. One car got stuck on Armistead Avenue. The city housed eight people overnight in a shelter. That is closing this morning.

The North Carolina Department of Transportation reported Saturday morning that North Carolina Highway 12 remains open and passable with many areas of sand and water on the roadway. However, the department expects soundside flooding to occur later this morning as winds shift, and urges people to drive with extreme caution if they must go out.

“Wait for better conditions Sunday if possible,” the department advised.

Dare County Emergency Management reported this morning that Ophelia is bringing powerful rip and longshore currents along with dangerous shorebreak, sustained winds near 40 mph, periods of heavy rain, thunderstorms, and coastal flooding to all area beaches today. Ocean conditions are unsafe. The county is urging people to obey red flags and stay out of the water. Dare County says the strongest rip currents often occur a couple of hours on either side of low tide, which was at 7:45 a.m. with the next low around 9 p.m. today.

Dare County expects mostly cloudy skies with rain and a chance of thunderstorms today. Residents in Dare County can expect dangerous breaking waves at 7 to 12 feet. Ocean Rescue staffing is at off-season levels. Many beaches with lifeguard stands are now unguarded or covered by a roving patrol.

The National Hurricane Center at 11 a.m. said its Tropical Storm Warning from Cape Lookout to Cape Fear in North Carolina has been discontinued. The center also said the Storm Surge Warning south of Ocracoke Inlet, North Carolina westward along the coast has been discontinued, and the Storm Surge Watch from Surf City, North Carolina to Bogue Inlet has been discontinued.

The Storm Surge Warning is still in effect for:

  • Ocracoke Inlet, North Carolina to Chincoteague, Virginia

  • Chesapeake Bay south of Colonial Beach, Virginia

  • Neuse and Pamlico Rivers

  • Portions of Pamlico and Albemarle Sounds

A Storm Surge Watch is in effect for the remainder of Pamlico and Albemarle Sounds

A Tropical Storm Warning is in effect for:

  • East of Cape Lookout, North Carolina to Fenwick Island, Delaware

  • Albemarle and Pamlico Sounds

  • Tidal Potomac south of Cobb Island

  • Chesapeake Bay south of North Beach

A Storm Surge Warning means there is a danger of life-threatening inundation from rising water moving inland from the coastline, during the next 36 hours in the indicated locations.

Josh Janney,