A slow-moving, intensifying ocean storm east of Georgia will crawl northward this weekend and early next week, pounding beaches from South Carolina to New England with heavy rain and strong winds. From the North Carolina Outer Banks to Southeast Virginia, major coastal flooding is forecast.
The Outer Banks, where the storm center will make its closest pass, is expected to be hit the hardest by what the National Weather Service is calling “a strong and significant nor’easter.”
Substantial coastal flooding is predicted over multiple tidal cycles along with 4 to 8 inches of rain (with isolated 10-inch amounts) and peak wind gusts between 60 and 70 mph.
In its briefing package on the storm, the Weather Service office serving the Outer Banks warned that the coastal flooding would lead to the “potential for life threatening inundation, 2 to 4 feet above ground” between Saturday and Monday. This is the kind of storm surge typically generated by a strong tropical storm.
In its detailed forecast discussion, the Weather Service spelled out some of the severe impacts expected in waterfront areas:
Persistent, very strong north to northeast winds will lead to significant, life-threatening coastal flooding. Soundside flooding will affect Hatteras Island, Ocracoke Island, Downeast Carteret County, the Lower Neuse River in Craven County. Inundation is also possible across the lower extent of the Alligator River. Severe flooding will extend inland from the waterfront causing flooding of homes and businesses with some structural damage possible.
In some areas on the oceanfront north of Cape Hatteras, battering waves will cause damage to property. Numerous roads will be impassable under several feet of water and vehicles will be submerged. Some neighborhoods will be isolated and some areas may need to be evacuated. Portions of NC 12 will likely become inundated and impassible.
The tightly wound storm will also generate unusually strong winds for a fall, nontropical storm. The Weather Service has issued high wind warnings through the weekend and expects power outages in eastern North Carolina, in particular.
Farther north into the Virginia Tidewater and the southern Delmarva, serious storms impacts are also anticipated. “Dangerous winds of 50-60 mph (at the coast), moderate to potentially major flooding coastal flooding of 2 ft above ground level, and dangerous marine conditions are all expected,” the Weather Service office serving the region wrote.
Sea-level rise as a result of climate change increases the risk of flooding from such coastal storms, and communities from the Outer Banks northward to Hampton Roads are increasingly grappling with the consequences.
The city of Chesapeake advised residents in low-lying areas to “consider moving vehicles to higher ground and identify a higher location within Hampton Roads to relocate to should the need arise.”
The Weather Service cautioned that the coastal flood event would be “prolonged," predicting the worst conditions on Sunday.
This is a storm in which most hazardous impacts will remain fairly close to the coast outside of eastern North Carolina and Virginia, with more benign impacts inland, where breezy conditions and spotty showers are expected.
As the storm center drifts somewhat farther offshore as it heads north, the effects will ease slightly from coastal areas of Delaware into New Jersey. Even so, the Weather Service office serving the region is predicting wind gusts of 40 to 50 mph and “minor to locally moderate” coastal flooding (around high tide) Sunday into Monday. Rain is likely to be more spotty in this zone.
For southern New England, the storm will make its closest pass late Sunday into Monday, when a period of strong winds and heavy rain is likely along with the potential for minor coastal flooding.
“Monday looks just horrendous. Cold windy rain,” tweeted Eric Fisher, a broadcast meteorologist in Boston.
Its slow motion is tied to a zone of high pressure poised to its north over eastern Canada and Maine, blocking it from charging northward while resulting in a drawn-out battering for the coastal zones in the Mid-Atlantic.