Ophelia weakens, but could threaten East Coast in coming days

| Wednesday, September 14, 2005

After taunting the Carolinas for days, Ophelia once again reached hurricane status as it began its gradual assault on the lower East Coast.

Although not expected to even remotely equal the intensity of Hurricane Katrina two weeks ago, the Category 1 Hurricane has doused the Carolinas with a half-foot of rain, washed away a barrier island street and knocked out power, CNN reported.

No serious injuries or fatalities have been reported, but a surfer off the South Carolina coast is missing, according to media reports.

According to the National Weather Service, at 11a.m. EDT Wednesday, a hurricane warning – meaning hurricane conditions are expected within the next 24 hours – was in effect from the Little River Inlet to the North Carolina/Virginia border, including the Pamlico and Albemarle Sounds.

A hurricane watch and a tropical storm warning were in effect north of the North Carolina/Virginia border to cape Charles Light, VA, including the Chesapeake Bay south of New Point Comfort.

The center of the large eye of hurricane Ophelia was located about 40 miles south-southeast of Wilmington, NC, and about 85 miles southwest of Cape Lookout, NC. Maximum sustained winds are approximately 80 mph with higher gusts.

Ophelia is moving toward the north-northeast at 7 mph, and is expected to continue this movement throughout Wednesday. A gradual turn toward the northeast at a slightly faster forward speed is expected to occur by Wednesday evening. At this rate, the center of Ophelia is forecast to make landfall along or pass just south of the North Carolina Outer Banks on Thursday.

Maximum coastal storm surge flooding of 5 to 7 feet above normal tide levels, along with large and dangerous battering waves, are expected.  A storm surge of 9 to 11 feet is possible at the heads of bays and rivers.

Ophelia is expected to produce additional rainfall accumulations of 4 to 8 inches over northeastern South Carolina and eastern North Carolina, with maximum storm total amounts of 15 inches possible over coastal sections of North Carolina.

North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley declared a state of emergency Sunday, Sept. 11. The Associated Press reported the governor had sent 200 National Guard soldiers to staging centers and ordered a mandatory evacuation of non-residents from tourist areas along the flood-prone coastline.