Beginning late last week, a prolonged period of north winds caused major flooding at multiple points throughout Hatteras and Ocracoke islands, closing N.C. Highway 12 for roughly four days.
And while the highway has been open on both islands since Wednesday afternoon, with just a limited amount of saltwater and sand remaining on the roads, islanders are still keeping their eye on the forecast for a potential storm early next week.
The March 2-5 Storm
The early March nor’easter, which started on Friday morning with soundside flooding in the 2-3’ foot range and then continued through the weekend with ocean overwash, was not atypical on the surface.
“[Storms] like this one – but maybe not at this magnitude – are going to happen on that stretch of the Outer Banks several times a year because of the location and orientation of the island,” said Jim Merrell, Forecaster for the National Weather Service Newport / Morehead City Office.
“But this [event] was slightly more unusual, as the storm was north / northeast, and the swell energy produced these large waves which just kept pounding the northern Outer Banks.”
The prolonged duration of the storm, which moved at a snail’s pace through the Mid-Atlantic, is essentially what caused the damage.
“The wind was mainly just over the weekend, but then you had residual swells, and the wind came around to north / northeast,” said Merrell. “The storm is long gone and way out to sea, but because it was slow moving and so strong, it builds up that swell energy which was coming at the Outer Banks for several days.”
NWS forecasters from the Newport / Morehead City came to the Outer Banks late this week to conduct storm surveys and examine the water level rise and storm surge.
But the initial report on the summary of the storm showed some unique characteristic of this strong nor’easter. Inland, the storm produced record low water levels in the Neuse and Pamlico Rivers, with water levels up to five feet below normal.
Exceptionally high winds were also recorded at multiple points throughout the islands, which included the following recordings from Friday morning, March 2
Potential Storm for Early Next Week
With cleaning efforts throughout the islands underway, many locals are now paying attention to the forecast for early next week, as another storm becomes a possibility.
Though it’s still early to make a definitive call on the track and impact of a potential storm – or if it will form and affect the area at all – forecasters are keeping an eye on a low that is approaching the area.
“All models have some low coming up the coast, but they differ on the movement and location of it,” said Merrell. “Some models have it offshore and slower to develop, and some have it directly moving along the coast.”
“Everything is pointing to another nor’easter type storm developing early Monday, and affecting the area Monday into Tuesday,” he said. “The system that will cause the low to develop offshore will arrive Sunday, and it will actually develop Sunday night and Monday morning.”
Any potential storm is still at least 3-4 days out, but forecasters are continuing to monitor potential developments.
For now, islanders should expect rain to spread into the area late Saturday/early Sunday morning, becoming widespread Sunday and lingering into Monday as the low lifts away from the area.
For more information, visit www.weather.gov/mhx for weather forecast information, or the National Weather Service office in Newport / Morehead City’s Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/NWSMoreheadCity/.