January 21, 2016

UPDATED:  Outer Banks should be spared
worst of strong, wintry northeaster


(Updated at 5:00 p.m. to add high surf and wind advisories for Outer Banks and link to National Weather Service PowerPoint on the weekend storm.)

It looks as if the Outer Banks will be spared the ice and snow that is forecast for north and west of the area from tomorrow into Sunday morning as a major winter storm  deepens just off the North Carolina coast and moves quickly northeast.

However, according to the National Weather Service in Newport/Morehead City, N.C., the Outer Banks could get walloped with heavy rains, gusty winds and minor to moderate beach erosion and coastal flooding on both the oceanside and soundside of the islands.

The Weather Service said on Thursday afternoon that models are in good agreement that a low pressure area over the Gulf Coast states on Friday will dissipate and a new low will spin up off the South Carolina coast Friday evening. The new low is forecast to pass near eastern North Carolina Friday night and then race off to the northeast on Saturday.

This afternoon, the Weather Service issued both high surf and high wind advisories for the Outer Banks.

The wind advisory is in effect from 5 p.m. Friday until 5 a.m. Saturday.  Winds are forecast at 25 to 35 mph with gusts to 45 to 50 mph.

The high surf advisory is in effect from 7 p.m. Friday until 10 a.m. Saturday.  Breaking waves of 7 to 10 feet are expected, along with the threat of dangerous shorebreak, rip currents, and beach erosion.

Gale warnings are in effect for all coastal waters.

Precipitation is expected to begin late Thursday night into early Friday when temperatures will be at or near freezing inland.  A period of sleet and freezing rain mix is possible inland, and a winter weather advisory is in effect until 11 a.m. Friday for areas basically along and west of Highway 17.

The precipitation is expected to begin as rain along the coast around 8 a.m. Friday.  During the afternoon and Friday night, the rain could be heavy at times, with 1 to 3 inches possible.  On Saturday night, wrap around snow is possible, as the winds shift to the northwest and colder air moves in -- again snow is more likely north and west of the Outer Banks. There is a slight chance of some leftover snow showers along the northern Outer Banks early Sunday.

As the low approaches Friday, strong southeast winds will develop along the coast, especially the Outer Banks. The strong winds will build seas to 10 to 16 feet over coastal waters Friday night through Saturday night. 

There may be a lull in the winds late Friday into Saturday. However, the Weather Service says that strong west to northwest winds will develop late Saturday into Saturday night on the backside of the low.

Another wind advisory may be issued for Saturday night when winds are currently forecast at 25 to 35 mph from the northwest with gusts at 45 to 50.
High surf, beach erosion, and minor to moderate coastal flooding are possible, with the greatest threat over the Outer Banks.  The Weather Service said this afternoon that at some point, coast flood watches or warnings may be necessary. Flooding will transition from the oceanside on Friday night to the soundside late Saturday and Saturday night.

Water levels 2 to 4 feet above normal are possible along the coast north of Cape Hatteras and 1 to 3 feet above normal on the sounds.

Though the Outer Banks forecast doesn't sound much worse than your average northeaster, the story is different along the mid-Atlantic coast from Virginia north and inland over North Carolina and the mountains. In those areas, historic snowfalls and blizzard conditions are possible. 

"While impacts here in Dare should be minor," Drew Pearson, director of county emergency management, said in an advisory last night, "other parts of the state are bracing for a winter storm that will make travel difficult.  The same holds true for Virginia and other northeastern states.  If you do need to travel please exercise caution, make sure you have winter survival gear with you and check the weather before you head out."

However, as usual, the forecast comes down to the fact that snow is notoriously difficult to predict and the forecast could change with just a minor movement of the low pressure more to the west or east as it passes along the coast.

To check the latest forecasts and keep up with advisories, watches, and warning, go to the National Weather Service in Newport/Morehead City website at www.weather.gov/mhx.


Click here to see a presentation by the National Weather Service in Newport/Morehead City on the coastal storm that is expected to affect the Outer Banks from Friday, Jan. 22, into Sunday, Jan. 24.

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