The D.C. area is bracing for a powerful tropical storm that’s expected to drench the region starting Friday night and lasting through the weekend. Here’s what you need to know.
- A powerful coastal weather maker formed into Tropical Storm Ophelia on Friday
- Virginia’s governor and Maryland’s governor have declared states of emergency
- Road crews and leaders in flood-prone areas are taking steps to prepare for the deluge
The National Hurricane Center said Tropical Storm Ophelia is approaching the East Coast toward North Carolina and will affect the D.C. region, bring gusty winds, heavy rain and coastal flooding.
‘Many at-risk communities’
Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin declared a state of emergency ahead of the storm. The declaration allows the Commonwealth to mobilize resources and equipment needed for response and recovery efforts.
A news release from the governor’s office said that “this is an unusual storm, which has been difficult to accurately forecast, approaching large population centers with many at-risk communities.”
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The governor’s office said Virginians should plan ahead to maintain contact with loved ones, prepare an emergency kit and follow the Virginia Department of Emergency Management on social media for updates.
Maryland Gov. Wes Moore said in a news release that residents should avoid driving or being outside at all during the incoming storm.
“We are expecting an extended period of strong winds, heavy rainfall, and elevated tides,” Moore said. “Those under a tropical storm warning should be prepared and exercise caution during this multiple-day event.”
The governor’s office said Marylanders should remain alert and follow officials’ guidance, as well as news stations, to stay updated on the storm and how it could affect where they live.
Flooding, surge, tornadoes possible
7News First Alert Chief Meteorologist Veronica Johnson said the storm system is expected to bring widespread minor tidal flooding across the region, with the potential for moderate flooding along D.C.’s Southwest Waterfront as well as Annapolis and parts of Southern Maryland.
The National Weather Service has issued several warnings, watches and advisories associated with Ophelia and is tracking the storm’s moving in from North Carolina.
5:50pm-Tropical Storm Ophelia continues toward the NC coast late tonight before pushing northward into our region Saturday. Expect NE winds to gusts 35-55 mph & 2-5″ of heavy rainfall. Coastal flooding will also be an issue especially across southern MD. #MDwx #VAwx #WVwx #DCwx pic.twitter.com/ElgO5ntUIq
— NWS Baltimore-Washington (@NWS_BaltWash) September 22, 2023
From 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday, a wind advisory is in effect for most of the D.C. area, with gusts up to 50 mph expected.
Areas close to the shoreline in D.C. are under a Coastal Flood Warning from 10 a.m. Saturday to 7 a.m. Sunday. Up to 1 foot of inundation above ground level in low lying areas is expected due to tidal flooding.
In Anne Arundel County, areas close to shore are also under a Coastal Flood Warning from 8 p.m. Saturday to 8 a.m. Sunday. Up to 2 feet of inundation from tidal flooding in certain areas is possible. according to the weather service.
A Coastal Flood Watch is in effect for Arlington and Alexandria from Saturday morning to late Saturday night, with up to a foot of inundation above ground level expected in low-lying areas due to tidal flooding. King Street in Alexandria is one area expected to see high water.
In Fairfax, Stafford and parts of Prince William counties, a coastal flood advisory is in effect from Saturday afternoon through Sunday morning, with the possibility of flooding of lots, parks and some roads.
In terms of overall rainfall, 7News meteorologist Brian van de Graaff said “widespread rain totals between 2 to 3 inches will be commonplace, with some neighborhoods tallying higher amounts.”
The highest winds are expected to remain in the Chesapeake Bay and across Southern Maryland, in Calvert and St. Mary’s counties, where tropical storm warnings have been issued for Saturday. Wind gusts could reach 60 mph, which could be problematic.
The National Weather Service also warned of significant impacts in St. Mary’s County from storm surge up to 3 feet. NWS said the highest water levels will be around high tides Saturday.
According to the weather service, while the threat is low, a brief tornado or two cannot be ruled out across Southern Maryland on Saturday afternoon and evening.
Communities cancel events, brace for impact
The weekend weather has led to some event cancellations.
As a result of the tropical storm warning, the Burtonsville Day Festival, Panafest, Hyattsville Arts Festival, Reston Multicultural Festival, Anne Arundel County’s River Day’s event at Fort Smallwood Park and the Kunta Kinte Heritage Festival in Annapolis have been canceled this year. All activities scheduled for Saturday in Fairfax County Public Schools or on school grounds have also been canceled.
In areas notorious for flooding, such as Old Town Alexandria, work is already underway to mitigate Tropical Storm Ophelia’s impact.
“We have our Transportation and Environmental Services going out and cleaning inlets, making sure the drains are not plugged so the water can flow,” said Curicé Paulüs, deputy emergency management coordinator with the City of Alexandria. “They also have generators that are fueled and on standby and ready to deploy.”
Paulüs had a message for residents.
“I encourage you to go out and get the necessary supplies that you need,” she said. “You should always prepare to have supplies for three days for each member of your household. That’s water, that’s food and other essentials.”
Both the Virginia and Maryland Department of Transportation said their crews are also standing ready to respond to any unsafe travel conditions and damage that result from Ophelia. In Maryland, workers are preparing by cleaning out drainage inlets, pipes and ditches and inspecting their generators and chain saws.
To prepare for the rain and wind, van de Graaff advised people to make sure storm drains and gutters are clear and any outdoor items are secured or brought inside.
Ed McDonough, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Emergency Management, added that people should keep their devices charged in case they lose power.
For people who must drive during the storm, Virginia State Police said take it slow, never drive through standing water, don’t tailgate and use headlights.
Showers, becoming windy
Temperatures: 60s to 70s
Winds: Northeast 10-20 mph, gusts topping 30 mph
Moderate to Heavy Rain
Winds: Northeast 10-20 mph, gusts topping 35 mph
Rain, heavy at times with localized flooding possible, gusty winds
Highs: Low to mid-60s
Winds: Northeast 15-25 mph, gusts up to 45 mph
Lingering showers, drizzle and breezy
Highs: Mid to upper 60s
Winds: North 5-15 mph, gusts 20 mph