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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Despite Storm Surge and Heavy Rain, Virginia Weathers Ophelia Without Major Damage

File photo: Workers on power lines in Richmond, Va. (Parker Michels-Boyce for The Virginia Mercury)

WAKEFIELD — Despite stiff winds, drenching rains and coastal storm surges, Virginia pulled through Tropical Storm Ophelia relatively unscathed this weekend.

Jeff Orrock, chief meteorologist for the National Weather Service’s Wakefield office, which covers most of central and eastern Virginia, said Hampton Roads saw the most severe storm impacts Friday night into Saturday morning, with central Virginia feeling the brunt on Saturday through the evening.

“It was kind of a weird one-two punch,” he said. “It pretty much went from Friday afternoon all the way through Saturday evening.”

Ophelia, which strengthened from a potential tropical cyclone into a tropical storm on Friday, made landfall near Emerald Isle in North Carolina early Saturday morning before moving up the East Coast through Virginia.

The National Weather Service measured winds of 45 to 60 mph in coastal areas and 35 to 40 mph in central Virginia as the storm weakened over the course of its northward march. The gale caused downed trees and power outages, and exacerbated the effects of tidal flooding along the state’s rivers, but no fatalities or major destruction were reported.

“This was a significant event for us that caused disruptions, but it’s not the worst that we have seen,” said Ben McFarlane, chief resiliency officer for the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission. 

(National Weather Service Wakefield)

Jeremy Slayton, a spokesperson for Dominion Energy, the primary electricity provider for much of eastern and central Virginia, said about 170,000 utility customers had outages over the weekend, but all service was restored by Sunday afternoon.

“Any time you have a storm like that with a combination of heavy rain and heavy wind, we have to contend with branches falling,” he said.

In preparation for Ophelia’s arrival, Gov. Glenn Youngkin declared a state of emergency Friday, a move that gave state agencies more flexibility to deploy resources to respond to the storm. The Virginia National Guard staged roughly 35 soldiers at Virginia Natural Gas facilities in Hampton Roads to assist with transporting people through potential high water or removing debris. The Virginia Emergency Operations Center and Virginia Emergency Support Team were also activated, although the state Department of Emergency Management was unable to speak with the Mercury Monday.

Forecasts by the National Hurricane Center predicted coastal areas could see storm surge of between 2 to 4 feet above ground level, with 3 to 5 inches of rain in Hampton Roads and 2 to 4 inches of rain through the Interstate 95 corridor in central Virginia.

Orrock of the National Weather Service in Wakefield said storm impacts played out in line with predictions. The eastern portion of the state saw about 3 feet of storm surge, and both Hampton Roads and central Virginia received between 3 and 5 inches of precipitation. A Monday briefing from the Wakefield office noted while many area rivers rose due to Ophelia’s rainfall, they remain below flood stages.

“Luckily the rivers were low,” said Orrock. “They were able to absorb the rainfall pretty easily.”

McFarlane said there were reports of some roadways and cars flooding in Norfolk and Portsmouth, but the timing of the high tides over the weekend helped reduce impacts.

“We got the high tide at kind of a fortuitous time, because it was in the middle of the night,” he said. “This could have been a lot worse.”

Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sarah Vogelsong for questions: Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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