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Tropical Storm Ophelia gathers strength, promises heavy rain, wind

Tropical Storm Ophelia was gaining strength as it churned toward the North Carolina coast on Friday, promising a weekend of heavy rain and windy conditions throughout the mid-Atlantic.

The Associated Press has the story:

Tropical Storm Ophelia gathers strength, promises heavy rain, wind

Newslooks-ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP)

Tropical Storm Ophelia was gaining strength as it churned toward the North Carolina coast on Friday, promising a weekend of heavy rain and windy conditions throughout the mid-Atlantic.

Forecasters issued a hurricane watch for parts of eastern North Carolina, saying Ophelia showed the potential to gather even more strength as it passes over warm Gulf Stream waters in the coming hours. The storm is expected to make landfall in North Carolina on Saturday morning and dump as much as 7 inches (17.7 centimeters) across portions of the state and into southeast Virginia.

Nancy and Bob Shoemaker, whose home is next to the water, load sandbags into their car in downtown Annapolis, Md., on Friday, Sept. 22, 2022 in preparation for an approaching storm. Tropical Storm Ophelia has formed off the mid-Atlantic coast and is expected to bring heavy rain, storm surges and windy conditions over the weekend, the National Hurricane Center said. (AP Photo/Brian Witte)

The intensifying weather system spun up into a tropical storm on Friday afternoon with maximum sustained winds of 60 mph (95 kph), the National Hurricane Center said. A storm surge warning was in effect for some areas, with surges between 3 and 5 feet (0.9 to 1.5 meters) forecast for parts of North Carolina, the hurricane center reported.

The governors of North Carolina and Virginia declared a state of emergency Friday. Some schools closed early as communities prepared for the storm’s arrival, and several weekend events were canceled.

Nancy Shoemaker and her husband Bob stopped by a waterside park in downtown Annapolis, Maryland’s capital, to pick up sandbags to help protect their waterfront home.

Last year, at the end of October, they experienced a big surge of water that came into their yard and even washed some sandbags away.

“We’re hoping it won’t be that way this time,” Nancy Shoemaker said. “If we have a lot of wind and a lot of surge, it can look like the ocean out there, so that’s a problem.”

Scott Bierman, a water taxi driver in Annapolis, Md., said the water taxi service in Maryland’s capital city was shutting down at 6 p.m. Friday, Sept. 22, 2022 due to an intensifying weather system off the mid-Atlantic coast, and the decision has already been made for water taxi service to be closed on Saturday. (AP Photo/Brian Witte)

A storm surge warning was in effect from Beaufort Inlet, North Carolina, to Chincoteague, Virginia, and a tropical storm warning was issued from Cape Fear, North Carolina to Fenwick Island, Delaware.

Ophelia was already affecting water taxis in Annapolis, where water taxi driver Scott Bierman said service would shut down at 6 p.m., and the decision had already been made to close Saturday.

“We don’t operate when it’s going to endanger passengers and or damage vessels,” Bierman said.

It’s not uncommon for one or two tropical storms — or even hurricanes — to form right off the U.S. East Coast each year, said Michael Brennan, director of the National Hurricane Center.

“We’re right at the peak of hurricane season, we can basically have storms form anywhere across much of the Atlantic basin,” Brennan said in an interview.

This Thursday, Sept. 21, 2023, satellite image provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows a potential tropical cyclone forming off the southeastern coast of the United States in the Atlantic Ocean. (NOAA via AP)

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 Boston, New York and Virginia and be more likely to form along the Southeast coast.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper issued an emergency declaration aiming to expedite preparations and help provide a swift response to the storm.

“The storm’s path has been difficult to predict and we want to ensure that farmers, first responders and utility crews have the tools necessary to prepare for severe weather,” Cooper said.

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s executive order also sought to ease response and recovery efforts.

“We want to ensure that all communities, particularly those with the greatest anticipated impact, have the resources they need to respond and recover from the effects of this storm,” Youngkin said.

The governor encouraged residents to prepare an emergency kit and follow the weather forecast closely.

Schools in coastal areas of North Carolina and Virginia announced plans to dismiss students early Friday and cancel afterschool and weekend activities.

The North Carolina Ferry System announced it was suspending several routes and the State Emergency Response Team planned to move to an enhanced watch Friday to ease coordination of resources, the governor’s office said.

Meanwhile, Hurricane Nigel was downgraded to a post-tropical cyclone centered about 640 miles (1,030 kilometers) northwest of the Azores with maximum sustained winds of 70 mph (110 kph). There were no associated coastal watches or warnings as the storm moved northeast at 37 mph (59 kph), the hurricane center said in its final update on the system Friday morning.

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