WILMINGTON — Over the weekend, an area of low pressure and strong thunderstorms, originating in the Gulf of Mexico, passed into the waters off the southeastern coast. Yesterday afternoon, a Tropical Storm Watch was issued for North Carolina, with the National Weather Service giving this storm around a 90 percent chance of becoming a tropical system in the next 24 hours.
According to the National Weather Service, “a Tropical Storm Watch indicates the risk of a tropical storm has increased significantly, but its occurrence, location, and/or timing is still uncertain. It is intended to provide enough lead time so that those who need to set their plans in motion can do so.”
The watch is in effect for Brunswick, New Hanover, and Pender counties.
The storm, located approximately 330 miles southwest of the Port City, has sustained winds of approximately 35 mph, and although currently disorganized and slow moving, is expected to strengthen throughout the day.
The makings of Tropical Storm Irma
If formation occurs, the system will be named Tropical Storm Irma, making it the tenth named storm of the 2017 Atlantic Hurricane Season.
According to Steve Pfaff, Warning Coordination Meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Wilmington, although there is still a lot of uncertainty with this storm, especially with regards to its tropical characteristics.
“The problem with this system is, it could take on tropical characteristics, which is why we posted the tropical storm watch,” he said. “But, if it doesn’t, and remains extra-tropical, like a nor’easter, then it’s still going to bring similar impacts.”
Pfaff said that he doesn’t want people to focus on whether this storm becomes tropical or not. The main thing concern at this point, especially in coastal areas, is the potential for flooding.
“We’ve increased the forecast for 3-6 inches (of rainfall) across the Cape Fear area,” he said. “The concerning part is those antecedent conditions. We’ve had a lot of rain in the area over the past few weeks, and we’re over 200 percent of normal over a large swath over the last few weeks.
“When you’re looking at a heavy rain event, and you’ve got a lot of saturation, then certainly it makes it easier to create flooding. So, that I think is going to be our biggest threat with this storm.”
In addition to the potential for flooding, the system is anticipated to bring strong winds, and rough seas, leading to rip currents and dangerous conditions for those on the water.
Luckily, the storm is “transient,” and is expected to move “rather quickly” north and away from the area over the next couple of days, although the threat remains in effect for the rest of today and into Tuesday.
Overdue for a storm
“Overall, this is till a low impact event compared to Harvey, or a Matthew type of situation, where there was 15 inches of rain in some places,” he said. “It’s certainly something we need to keep and eye on, but it’s not out of the ordinary for a tropical system, or a weak nor’easter, that are common place here.”
Although this storm may not become full fledged hurricane, Pfaff said that it’s important to remain vigilant.
“We are so due for a major hurricane, it’s been 21 years since Fran,” he said. “I don’t want people to think, ‘oh, this is a little tropical system, or a nor’easter, that’s how they’re all going to be.’ They can be very unique with regard to impact.”