Dennis, the storm that seemed to linger forever, finally barreled ashore today along North Carolina's Outer Banks, weakening in wind strength even as it headed north to Virginia with torrential rains, destructive tornadoes and widespread flooding.
After skirting the North Carolina coast Monday as a 100-mph hurricane and stalling for more than five days offshore, the pesky storm began to lose its power as soon as it reached the uninhabited Cape Lookout National Seashore at about 4:30 p.m.
By 5 p.m., the storm's center made landfall at the small town of Davis, N.C., about 15 miles northeast of Morehead City, before wobbling north parallel with the Neuse River and dousing the New Bern area with as much as eight inches of rain.
Forecasters said they expect Dennis, whose winds had diminished to 50 mph by 11 p.m., to continue northwest along Interstate 95 and to cross the North Carolina-Virginia border overnight, promising abundant drought relief as far north as Pennsylvania and New Jersey. A tropical storm warning was posted for the Chesapeake Bay, including the tidal Potomac, which embraces the District of Columbia. Upper Potomac tides were forecast to be one to two feet above normal.
Dennis should gust through the Washington area Sunday, moving northward along the west side of the Chesapeake Bay, bringing thunderstorms, 35-mph sustained winds, possible tornadoes and heavy rain. The "heaviest, steadiest rain will be west of the I-95 corridor," said Laura Hannon, a meteorologist for Accu-Weather. She forecast "two inches plus" of rain, but the National Weather Service said the area should expect three to six inches, with eight inches possible in the eastern Appalachian Mountains.
Today, Vienna had the area's heaviest rainfall, receiving 2.1 inches between 4 p.m. and 10 p.m., according to National Weather Service meteorologist Andy Woodcock. Fairfax County officials blamed the rain for weakening support for a tree that fell onto Georgetown Pike tonight and poor drainage for the closing of Woodburn Road for a few hours.
"As a tropical system, it's 'Goodbye, Dennis,' but it's still a force to be reckoned with," said meteorologist Stacy Stewart of the National Hurricane Center in Miami. "Instead of a wind machine, it will be more of a heavy-rain, flash-flood system with the possibility of an isolated tornado here and there."
In southeastern Virginia, Dennis spawned at least two tornadoes today. One twister hit Chesapeake at about 11 a.m., toppling telephone poles and damaging a barn but causing no injuries. Two hours later, in Hampton, a tornado with winds gusting up to 120 mph hit two nursing homes and several apartment buildings, injuring more than a dozen people and displacing at least 1,000.
Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III (R) declared a state of emergency: "This is a serious storm, and citizens need to take all appropriate actions to safeguard themselves and their property."
On North Carolina's battered Outer Banks, shops and restaurants that had reopened after Dennis's first round on Monday closed again, and Dennis-weary residents, tourists and emergency officials braced for another nasty night. Highway 12, the main north-south route through the Outer Banks, was flooded again in many places, and the empty motel balconies and drenched and deserted beaches proved that this was indeed a dud of a Labor Day holiday weekend.
In addition to the tropical storm warning from Surf City, N.C., to Chincoteague, Va., a gale warning was up from Chincoteague to Great Egg Inlet, N.J.
The surf was rough at mid-Atlantic resorts today. Winds at Rehoboth Beach, Del., blew at 15 to 20 mph, but the beach was open for the first time all week.
Tom Coveleski of the Rehoboth Beach Patrol said people were restricted to knee-deep water. "It's getting windy and gusty as the storm gets closer," he said in the middle of the day. "But people want to get wet."
Dennis's resurgence meant a lousy holiday weekend for shop owners such as John Boyd of the Farmer's Daughter Country Store here in Nags Head. Boyd and others are hoping to recoup after the storm's passing; September is an extremely busy month as vacationers without school-age children descend on the islands.
"I'm certainly tired of the rain, even though we needed it, but I'm much more sick of the media coverage and all the negative references to travel and vacationing," Boyd said. "But the rest of September should be great."
Weekend tourists such as Kenny Hall of Lewes, Del., were clearly torn today. He could stay and hope the weather would brighten, but in the end he decided there was too little time left to dally.
"I'm getting ready to leave," he said, after arriving here only on Friday. "There's nothing to do anyway."
Staff writers Patrice Gaines and Sewell Chan in Washington and Jackie Spinner in Rehoboth Beach, Del., contributed to this report.
CAPTION: Amber Wright and Chris Murphy stand next to one of Dennis's casualties: a damaged beach house in the Outer Banks community of Kill Devil Hills, N.C.