Tropical Storm Maria was upgraded to hurricane status with sustained winds of 75 mph, but it’s expected to weaken within the next two days as it turns away from the North Carolina coast.
Maria had been downgraded to a tropical storm Tuesday afternoon as consistent wind speeds dropped below the threshold of 75 mph, but strengthened back into a hurricane by Wednesday morning, according to the National Hurricane Center.
Winds picked up along the Outer Banks on Wednesday, and weather forecasters warned of flooding as deep as 4 feet in spots while Hurricane Maria cruised north about 150 miles out in the Atlantic Ocean.
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Dare County schools were closed for a second day, and officials said Currituck County schools were closed because buses could not operate safely in high winds.
Dominion Energy and the Cape Hatteras Electric Cooperative reported only scattered power outages.
Hatteras and Ocracoke islands lost about 10,000 visitors to evacuation orders earlier in the week, the Associated Press reported. Evacuations of visitors from both islands remained in effect on Wednesday.
The storm’s consistent winds were about 70 mph Wednesday, and the National Hurricane Center warned that Maria was still a dangerous storm.
A tropical storm warning was in effect from Ocracoke Inlet to the Virginia border and the Albemarle and Pamlico sounds, but the warnings were expected to expire Wednesday evening. The warning south of Cape Hatteras was discontinued Wednesday evening.
All storm surge warnings also were discontinued Wednesday, according to the National Hurricane Center.
“Maria is moving slowly, and our coast is not out of harm’s way yet,” said Governor Roy Cooper. “People on the Outer Banks need to remain aware and cautious, as travel is hazardous in some areas. ”
Ocean overwash and soundside flooding covered portions of N.C. Highway 12 in some areas. Most state ferry service along the Outer Banks were canceled Wednesday while Maria passed. Ferry crews will begin test runs Thursday morning to see if conditions are suitable for resuming ferry service.
Maria is expected to turn away from the North Carolina coast through Thursday. Some weakening is forecast in the next two days, though swells generated by the storm still are causing life threatening surf and rip currents along the East Coast.
Lee became the fifth major hurricane of the 2017 season on Wednesday, though the storm is expected to slowly weaken in the next two days and is not expected to be a threat to land.
Some development is possible when a system over the northwest Caribbean moves near Florida or the northwest Bahamas Friday or Saturday.