By Mary Gilbert, CNN Meteorologist
(CNN) — A tropical storm warning has been posted for parts of the North Carolina and mid-Atlantic coasts for a developing storm that will bring gusty winds, heavy rain, dangerous rip currents and coastal flooding to areas from Florida to New England as it tracks north near the coast into this weekend.
The area of low pressure, dubbed Potential Tropical Cyclone 16 by the National Hurricane Center, currently has 35 mph winds off the east coast of Florida. It’s expected to strengthen into a tropical storm by Friday as it approaches the North Carolina coast, the National Hurricane Center said. Depending on when it is named, it could be called Ophelia or Philippe.
The tropical storm warning was issued from just south of Wilmington, North Carolina, to the Maryland-Delaware state line. Tropical storm-force winds could arrive in North Carolina as soon as Friday, before pushing into the mid-Atlantic on Saturday.
A storm surge watch was also issued for parts of the same stretch of coastline, with up to 4 feet of surge possible from Surf City, North Carolina, to the Virginia Tidewater.
The storm was slowly coming together on Thursday and causing rain and storms to bubble to life over parts of Florida’s northeast coast and far southeastern Georgia. Breezy conditions also ramped up and caused worsening seas, but the storm’s worst will come this weekend.
Miserable weekend weather coming from East Coast storm
As the coastal storm becomes more organized on Friday, rainfall will shift into parts of the Carolinas and Virginia. Rain will stretch hundreds of miles from its center as it treks north through the weekend and drench portions of the mid-Atlantic during the day Saturday and even parts of New England by Saturday night.
The heaviest rainfall will remain largely confined to areas close to the coast, but inland areas will still have to deal with stormy weather, which could disrupt outdoor plans.
The greatest risk for heavy rain and flooding is expected in far eastern North Carolina, with totals of 4 to 6 inches likely.
Two to 4 inches of rain on Saturday through Sunday could impact a much larger swath of the eastern US from central North Carolina to New Jersey and New York. Even southern New England and inland areas, like Pennsylvania, could see 1 to 2 inches of rain this weekend.
Wind speeds will also increase on Friday for coastal areas, gusting 30 to 40 mph, with higher gusts possible closer to the center of the storm. The strongest winds are expected to arrive Friday for portions of the Carolinas and spread northward through the rest of the mid-Atlantic later Friday into Saturday.
These wind gusts, coupled with soaked ground, may bring down trees, which could cause property damage and power outages.
As the storm treks north, the risk for dangerous rip currents will be elevated along much of the East Coast as it churns up hazardous seas. The weather service warned of a high risk for rip currents headed into the weekend for sections of the coastline from Florida to New Jersey.
Coastal flooding is also possible for portions of North Carolina northward into New Jersey as the storm moves up the coast this weekend. Major-to-moderate flooding is forecast for several spots in the Virginia Tidewater and along Delaware Bay on Saturday as the storm’s strong winds push water into rivers at the coast.
In spots where major flooding occurs, numerous roads and homes and businesses could be inundated, according to NOAA.
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