What had been “potential tropical cyclone sixteen” strengthened to Tropical Storm Ophelia on Friday and was on track to strike North Carolina, forecasters said.
Ophelia became a tropical storm in the Atlantic around 2 p.m., and a hurricane watch covered the eastern North Carolina coast by 5 p.m., according to the National Hurricane Center.
The hurricane watch was from north of Surf City to Ocracoke Inlet. Other areas had tropical storm and storm surge warnings.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper and Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin declared states of emergency in advance of the storm. Emergency declarations allow for state aid and other assistance.
The effects of the storm were already being felt, with rain bands moving into North Carolina, the National Weather Service said Friday afternoon.
“Well in advance of the center, conditions are already starting to deteriorate up into the Mid-Atlantic states,” National Hurricane Center Director Michael Brennan said in a video briefing late Friday afternoon.
The Coastal Plain region of North Carolina could get 3 to 5 inches of rain, and “The Triangle,” which includes Chapel Hill, could see 2 inches, according to the agency.
Ophelia had maximum sustained winds of 70 mph at 5 p.m. as it approached the North Carolina coast, according to the hurricane center.
The storm wasn’t expected to strengthen much before making landfall, the center said in a bulletin. It was forecast to move across eastern North Carolina and into Virginia on Saturday and Sunday.
The center of the storm was expected to reach the North Carolina coast early Saturday, Brennan said.
The governors of North Carolina and Virginia encouraged people to take precautions.
In addition to the winds, there could be storm surge of up to 4 to 6 feet in some areas, including the Pamlico Sound, according to the hurricane center. An area from Surf City to Chincoteague, Virginia, could see a storm surge of 2 to 4 feet, it said.
Tropical storm warnings reached into Delaware and the Chesapeake Bay. The storm is forecast to be a tropical storm in North Carolina and Virginia, but then to weaken to a tropical depression.
There could be isolated rainfall totals of 7 inches in eastern North Carolina and southeastern Virginia, but rainfall amounts there were generally expected to be 3 to 5 inches. Other Mid-Atlantic states could see 2 to 4 inches of rain, according to the hurricane center.