PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Tropical storm Elsa made its way through our region Thursday night, bringing a tornado to Suffolk and another in Isle of Wight, along with some other storm damage.
The Hampton Roads area and northeast North Carolina and Outer Banks were under a tornado watch much of Thursday night. The watch was canceled at 10 p.m. as the storm moved out of the area.
The National Weather Service confirmed there was a tornado that touched down near the Kings Fork area of Suffolk around 7:15 p.m. There was no significant damage reported in the area.
There was also a reported tornado in the Smithfield area of Isle of Wight, stretching from Jordan Road across the Pagan River to Blounts Corner Road. There were trees down on a home in the area, the NWS said.
No real widespread damage was really reported across Hampton Roads, though WAVY’s Jon Dowding did find crews from Dominion working to restore power to some customers on Friday.
While Elsa moved through the area quickly, the storm packed a punch.
Throughout the region, various tornado warnings were issued for parts of Virginia, including Chesapeake, Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Windsor, Benns Church, Isle of Wight County, Whaleyville, Suffolk, Smithfield, Carrollton, Rushmere, Boykins, Franklin, Camptown, and Southampton Meadows.
There were also tornado warnings issued for Knotts Island, Hertford, Winfall, South Mills, Gatesville, Gates, Ahoskie, and Murfreesboro.
About an inch to an inch and a half of rain fell in Hampton Roads. As night fell, much of the heavy rain and strong gusts tapered off.
As of 6 a.m., an update from the National Hurricane Center (NHC) showed the storm was already past the Delmarva peninsula heading past New Jersey toward Long Island and Cape Cod, with maximum sustained winds of 50 mph.
The flash flooding threat from Elsa was expected to continue through Friday for portions of the Mid-Atlantic through New England.
Damage and power outages
Despite the reports of tornados, damage was not widespread. There was some localized damage, including trees on a house in Isle of Wight.
Some lightweight items stacked behind the Tractor Supply on Pruden Blvd. were tossed around, but no apparent significant damage. There was light debris on some roads, including small branches and leaves.
The National Weather Service said there were numerous limbs snapped and tree tops torn out.
The storm caused power outages for 60,000 Dominion Energy customers in central and eastern Virginia.
As of 10 a.m., about 1, 300 customers in Hampton Roads and Northern NC remained without power, according to Dominion. Some of the hardest-hit areas included Suffolk, Newport News, Williamsburg, Gloucester and Albemarle.
Prep by residents and localities
Conditions were windy and rainy at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront Thursday.
Residents tried to take advantage of the breaks in the rain as best they could.
“I think it’s going to be good and I think we’ll all be safe. Let’s just hunker down and enjoy the rain, we all need it, said resident Kenneth Zacharias. “We’ll all be safe and it will blow over quick, and it’ll be good and we’ll be back at the beach tomorrow, right?”
Localities asked residents to make sure loose items were tied down outside their homes. They also encouraged people to have emergency plans and kits ready in case of power outages or other emergencies.
“As the storm comes in, particularly if it gets really fierce, stay off the road if you don’t need to because we’re going to have crews doing a lot of things in a lot of places here and the less traffic the better. Plus, it’s a matter of safety for them,” said Drew Lankford, a spokesman with Virginia Beach Public Works. “Just be prepared to stay home, but also when we have a lot of rain and wind like this, trees toppling, coming down, branches, you know, interfering with power, so do the basic things people always tell you, get your flashlight, your batteries, whatever you’re going to need in case you don’t have power for a day or so. At this point, we don’t think that’s going to be a problem but you really should prepare.”
No localities announced openings of any shelters, but Portsmouth planned on staging materials at I.C. Norcom High School just in case.
Meanwhile, during the afternoon rush hour, a strong line of storms moved through as 10 On Your Side’s Kara Dixon reported from Fort Monroe in Hampton.
The rain did not stop people from enjoying the outside as fishermen braved the heavy downpour.
One man, Leo Redwood, said he decided to fish despite the impending storm because it’s one of the best times to fish.
Redwood was lucky and caught a few, and was also hopeful that Hampton Roads would get lucky and not feel heavy impacts of Elsa.
“I don’t think we’re going to get much of it other than rain and wind. Other than that everything else it locked down. Got plenty of water, electricity, generators. We’re in pretty good shape,“ said Redwood.
Closures and notes for for schools, city offices, etc.
- Edenton-Chowan Schools will be closed July 8 for students and summer school staff.
- Suffolk Public Schools is adjusting its Thursday schedules. All morning elementary, middle and high school Summer School will dismiss at their regularly scheduled times, but afternoon high school Summer School will dismiss at 3 p.m. All Suffolk Public Schools buildings and departments will close at 4 p.m.
- All Hampton City Schools after-school activities for students are canceled for Thursday, including 21st Century Summer STREAM program. Summer school is NOT canceled. Summer school will dismiss at its regular scheduled times.
- Norfolk Public Schools will dismiss at 3 p.m. Thursday. Early dismissal includes students in NPS’ LEAP schools and schools that have 21st Century programs.
- Afternoon Chesapeake Public Schools activities for Thursday, including the YMCA and Boys and Girls Club afternoon programs and the Oscar Smith middle School vaccination clinic, are cancelled. Chesapeake Public Schools Nutrition Services will be distributing meals at curbside locations from 3- 4:30 p.m.
- Portsmouth Public Schools says all schools and administrative offices will close Thursday at 2:30 p.m. Summer school schedules will not be impacted by this closure, but all afternoon and evening activities are cancelled.
- Chowan County Government Offices will be closing at 3:30 p.m. Thursday.
- The Norfolk Tides’ game with the Durham Bulls scheduled for Thursday night will be made up as part of a seven-inning doubleheader on Wednesday, July 28 at Harbor Park, with first pitch at 5:05 p.m.
- Suffolk Public Library’s Morgan Memorial Library and North Suffolk Library will close early at 5 p.m. Thursday. Suffolk Parks & Recreation will be closing all of their summer camps at 3 p.m. Poetry, Prose, and Pizza event scheduled for the Suffolk Art Gallery is canceled.
- ODU Parking Garages will open to ODU students, faculty, staff and members of the public who wish to park their vehicles on higher ground during Tropical Storm Elsa. Please keep in mind that garage permit requirements will resume at 6 a.m. on Monday, July 12. Park on Level 2 or higher and avoid parking in “ADA (Handicap Accessible)” or “Reserved Owner” spaces.
Roads and utilities
Drivers should avoid standing water and floods while driving.
The Virginia Department of Transportation is also preparing for rain and wind to impact the condition of roadways. The I-64 Express Lanes (reversible lanes) between I-264 and I-564 in Norfolk, will be closed from 6 p.m. Thursday, July 8 until 5 a.m. Friday, July 9. On Thursday, VDOT said it does not have plans to close any of Hampton Roads major bridge or tunnel crossings.
The left lane closure in the Downtown Tunnel eastbound scheduled for Thursday night, July 8, from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. has been canceled.
Here are more tips from VDOT:
- Crews stand ready to respond to any unsafe traveling conditions and damage resulting from the storm. Ahead of the storm, crews are inspecting drainage facilities and clearing them where necessary, readying trucks and equipment, and coordinating for debris and tree removal crews to be on standby.
- VDOT closes bridges, ramps or roads only when there is imminent danger to public safety, such as high water, structural damage or downed trees and debris blocking the roadway.
- There are no plans to close any of Hampton Roads major bridge or tunnel crossings, including the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel and Monitor-Merrimac Memorial Bridge-Tunnel. Complete bridge information can be found here. Speed limits may be reduced based on current wind conditions at each facility for motorist safety.
- Depending on wind gusts and water levels from the storm, the Jamestown-Scotland Ferry may potentially experience reductions in capacity and service outages. Motorists can call the ferry hotline at 1-800-VA-FERRY for status updates on ferry service.
Motorists and pedestrians should avoid areas with downed power lines, trees and standing water. Unsafe road conditions or hazards can be reported to VDOT’s 24-hour Customer Service Center by calling 1-800-FOR-ROAD or online at https://my.vdot.virginia.gov.
Dominion Energy is reminding people to charge up their phones ahead of the storm in order to be able to use them in case of extended power outages.
If you lose power, you are asked to report the outage using Dominion’s mobile app or online at DominonEnergy.com. You can download the Dominion Energy Outage Center app from the Apple App Store or Google Play Store. You can also call us at 1-866-DOM-HELP (1-866-366-4357).
“We have resources on standby, additional crews to come in and help not only in the eastern region, but in northeast North Carolina with any potential outages if they occur,” said Paula Miller, a spokesperson for the power company.
If wires do come down, assume they are energized and dangerous. Stay at least 30 feet away and make sure your family, pets, and neighbors also avoid the downed wire. Call Dominion Energy right away at 1-866-DOM-HELP (1-866-366-4357) to speak with an agent to report the downed wire.
NCDOT ferries: All afternoon departures at Pamlico Sound routes and the Ocracoke Express’ 4:30 p.m. departure from Hatteras and 8 p.m. departure from Ocracoke have been canceled.
The Virginia Department of Health is warning residents to take caution as Elsa moves through the area.
The VDH said heavy rains can cause animal waste in runoff and the potential release of inadequately treated wastewater from sewage treatment plants. That runoff can end up in rivers, lakes and streams and cause issues for people’s health.
The most common illnesses from contaminated water are gastrointestinal illnesses. It can also cause upper respiratory (ear, nose, throat) and skin infections.
Rain can also cause flooding and fast-moving waters.
Here are more tips from the VDH:
- Avoid getting water in your mouth. Never swallow water from an untreated water source.
- Don’t swim if you have broken skin. Bacteria, viruses and other organisms can infect wounds causing more serious illness.
- Shower with soap and water after recreating in natural waters.
- Don’t swim when you are ill.
- Avoid swimming if dead fish are present.
- Use extreme caution and avoid unnecessary risks if you encounter covered roads or fast-moving waters. The water may be deeper and moving faster than you think.
The Coast Guard also urges mariners to remain in port and stay off the water until Elsa passes.
Here are tips from the Coast Guard:
- Remain in port. Mariners should consider altering plans to avoid possible hazardous conditions. Remain in port, seek safe harbor, alter course, and/or secure the vessel for severe wind and waves.
- Prepare for heavy winds. Heavy winds associated with tropical storms can lead to life threatening conditions if boaters or mariners are unprepared. Follow precautions and weather advisories.
- Stay off the water. Boaters can find themselves in trouble as sea states intensify beyond what their vessel can safely operate within. The Coast Guard’s search and rescue capabilities degrade as storm conditions strengthen. This means help could be delayed. Boaters should heed weather watches, warnings, and small craft advisories.
- Secure belongings. Those who are leaving their boats in the water are reminded to secure life rings, lifejackets, and small boats. These items, if not properly secured, can break free and require valuable search and rescue resources be diverted to ensure people are not in distress.
- Be cautious on beaches. Beachgoers should heed warnings from local lifeguards and weather services in regards to the approaching storm. Wave heights and currents typically increase before a storm makes landfall. Even the best swimmers can fall victim to the strong waves and rip currents caused by tropical storms or hurricanes.
- Label and secure your paddlecraft: Storms can cause unsecured paddlecraft to break loose, which will result in search and rescue cases. if gear and craft are labeled properly, search and rescue coordinators can reach out quickly to see if an individual was in distress.
- Stay informed. The public should monitor the progress and strength of the storm through local television, radio, and the Internet. Boaters can monitor its progress on VHF radio channel 16. Information can also be obtained on small craft advisories and warnings on VHF radio channel 16.
This story will be updated. Stay with WAVY online and on-air for the latest coverage.