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Ernesto weakening, moving north to Virginia

by editor2
September 2nd, 2006

Tropical Storm Ernesto was downgraded to a tropical depression late this morning after drenching the eastern half of North Carolina overnight and moving toward the Middle Atlantic states.

Ernesto’s remnants are expected to cause Labor Day traffic headaches and perhaps spawn serious flooding in the area around the nation’s capital.

Almost at hurricane strength, Ernesto made landfall at 11:40 p.m. Thursday at Long Beach, in Brunswick County a short distance southwest of Wilmington, with sustained winds of about 70 mph.

It dropped record rainfall in Wilmington and caused flooding that has closed some roads in the eastern half of the state.

But there has been no major flooding, and there are no confirmed reports significant damage.

At 11 a.m., the center of Ernesto was about 80 miles west-southwest of Norfolk. The storm was moving north about 14 mph, with top sustained winds down to 35 mph.

All tropical storm warnings were dropped, although gale warnings will remain in place on the East Coast from New England south to the Outer Banks.

While Ernesto has lost its tropical storm status, its heavy rain will continue, moving into Virginia, Delaware, Maryland and southern Pennsylvania for the start of the holiday weekend.

Flood watches have been posted for much of Virginia, Delaware and Maryland today. From 3 to 5 inches of rain are expected in the area, but up to a foot could fall, including in the central Appalachian mountains.

“These rainfall amounts could cause life-threatening flash floods and mud slides,” said Lexion Avila, of the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

The bad weather also could play havoc with flight schedules today in busy airports at Washington, Baltimore and Philadelphia, officials said.

Heavy rain is coming to an end in eastern North Carolina, although Avila said a couple more inches could fall there today.

“It’s about quit raining,” said Johnny Smith, manager of a sporting goods store in Kinston, southeast of Raleigh. “We’re looking pretty good right now. At times, there was heavy rain.”

Wilmington set a rainfall record for the date, with nearly 7 inches falling.

The National Weather Service office in Morehead City said a few weak tornadoes were reported overnight in Onslow and Carteret counties, near the coast.

Law enforcement officials in Cumberland, Johnston, Sampson, Wake and Wayne counties reported a small number of trees blown down and some power outages. Duke Energy reported about 6,000 customers without power in the Durham area at 8 a.m. today.

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