Bit O' Nasty Weather

Crystal Cantorebury

Wind, rain, flooding; it's time to prepare for the "winter hurricane."

Millions of people are bracing for what meteorologists are predicting to be a severe weather event for much of North Carolina. Today I got to speak with three meteorologists about the impacts we can expect on Ocracoke and along the rest of the Outer Banks, as well as some facts about the storm itself.

Meteorologist Brad Panovich, who’s based out of Charlotte, NC, told me that very strong jet stream energy connecting with lots of moisture from the south and cold arctic air to the north are fueling this system. We can expect, “strong winds, heavy rain, and coastal flooding. This will have an impact similar to a strong Nor’easter.” Yikes!

Bit O' Nasty Weather

WCTI meteorologist Les Still, who is originally from my home state of Maryland, went further, explaining that winter storms in general gain their power from temperature differences. “Very cold air to our west will run into warm air being pulled in from the Atlantic Ocean. Add into that warm ocean water in the Gulf Stream and the ingredients are there for this Nor’easter to crank.”

“Nor’easters are often called 'Winter Hurricanes,'” Still continued. “And that is what we can expect on the coast.”

Expect seas to rise 5’-10’ in the waters around Ocracoke and as high as 15 feet offshore. Winds are forecast to be quite gusty, and this storm will bring periods of heavy rain. Still recommends having generators ready in the event of power outages, much like people would in preparation for a hurricane.

Meteorologist Carl Barnes of the National Weather Service Newport/Morehead City explained that the size of the storm, duration, and the amount of rain can cause widespread impacts. Rain is forecast to begin Saturday afternoon into the evening, but Barnes warns, “It will still be 24 hours before the worst is here.” Chances of heavy rainfall increase overnight Saturday into Sunday while, “The worst of the rain and localized flooding will come late Sunday. Overnight Sunday will be the worst for the southern Outer Banks, with winds gusts up to 40 and 50mph,” he said.

On Ocracoke specifically, Barnes said it’s possible for the ocean to wash over the dunes along the north end of the island (just like it did because of Hurricane Florence). In the village, soundside water could rise one foot above ground level. Barnes recommends moving vehicles from low-lying areas as well as bringing objects inside that could be blown around during the storm, which could last 48 hours or more. He also said we should be prepared for the strongest winds to last about 12 hours and suggests people in the storm’s path gather supplies to last several days (just in case).

Bit O' Nasty Weather

With this storm will come excessive amounts of water, which will pose a flood risk. “The combination of poor drainage, flooding from 2”-3” of rain, coupled with 1’-2’ of water covering the ground from the gusty northeast winds,” can cause flooding as the wind moves all that water to southern end of the sound, Still explained. He also said the storm is expected to exit to the southeast of the Outer Banks, which will make rainfall amounts and sound-side flooding a higher risk south of Ocracoke, while the ocean over-wash threat will be greater north of Ocracoke. Plus, as Panovich explained, “Higher tides and strong onshore winds ahead of the storm,” might produce soundside flooding on the back side of the system. Farther north, Panovich said they might even see some snow from this system.

Storms seem to batter the islands in different ways, which made me wonder how Ocracoke and Hatteras islands will fare during this event. Barnes explained that the islands experience storms differently largely because of how the coastline is oriented. “On Hatteras, west winds cause worse flooding; on Ocacoke, north or northwest wind makes flooding worse.” He also said that in some cases, such as Florence, sheer luck prevented impacts here from being worse. 

So, what can we get out of the forecast? Panovich urges people to “really focus more on impacts. So many times people focus on labels of what something is called instead of what it’s causing. High water, no matter what is causing it, should matter; not the name of the storm or the category.”

Still echoed those thoughts saying, “Listen carefully to our forecast and check back often. There could be minor changes in the forecast that have major consequences.” He continued by saying that most people only focus on one impact, even though storms produce a multitude of risks, forgetting other dangers are even possible. Panovich and Still both suggest we be prepared for impacts to be felt into Monday.

Still also said that these Nor’easters will be a common occurrence this winter. “As we get deeper into the season, it will eventually be cold enough for one of these storms to seize on that cold air. Don’t be surprised if we see snow at the lighthouse again this winter!”



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