Low pressure lingering off East Coast brings gusty winds, high surf, rip currents and coastal flooding

A pesky low-pressure system that developed off the East Coast over Mother's Day weekend continues to meander in the western Atlantic Ocean, creating gusty winds, high surf, rip currents and coastal flooding from the mid-Atlantic southward to Florida.

The jet stream is currently parked well to the north, so instead of drifting out to sea, this system will actually retreat southwestward in the direction of the southeastern U.S. during the second half of this week.

A high-pressure system is also located over the Canadian Maritimes. The clockwise winds around this high are teaming up with the counterclockwise winds around the low-pressure system near the Eastern Seaboard, generating persistent northeasterly onshore winds.

These stronger winds will produce high surf and rip currents along much of the East Coast through the end of the week, including as far south as the Atlantic coast of Florida.


While the coastal flooding threat is starting to diminish, at least minor coastal flooding could linger at times of high tide through Thursday evening in the Virginia Tidewater and the eastern Carolinas in cities such as Norfolk and Virginia Beach in Virginia, Wilmington in North Carolina and Charleston in South Carolina.

Large, persistent waves will cause severe beach erosion as well.

One of the hardest-hit areas has been the Outer Banks of North Carolina, where widespread coastal flooding on Tuesday forced the closure of portions of N.C. 12 on Hatteras Island, according to the North Carolina Department of Transportation. The highway remained closed as of Wednesday morning.

Additionally, the high surf caused two beachfront homes to collapse in the Outer Banks. An unoccupied home in Rodanthe, North Carolina, fell into the surf Tuesday morning, according to officials with Cape Hatteras National Seashore National Park. A second unoccupied home collapsed a short time later, NPS officials said. 

Finally, by Thursday night or Friday, this low-pressure system will begin to retreat southwestward toward the southeastern U.S. That will increase the chance of rain across portions of the Southeast from Friday into the weekend.

If you have beach plans, you're advised to use caution because of the threat of rip currents. According to the National Weather Service, an average of 60 people are killed by rip currents each year in the U.S. So far this year, rip currents have already been blamed for 14 deaths.

Many beaches use color-coded flags to warn visitors of the day’s rip current risk.

If you see a green flag, strong rip currents are not expected that day, so you should be able to swim safely. However, beware of the yellow and red flags. A yellow flag means there is a moderate risk of strong rip currents, while a red flag indicates a high risk. Take extreme caution when entering the water if a yellow or red flag is posted on the beach.

You can find NOAA’s official rip current forecasts at this link.

Subtropical development not ruled out

It's still not completely ruled out that this low-pressure system meandering off the East Coast could briefly become a subtropical depression or subtropical storm before it moves inland over the Southeast late Thursday or Friday. A storm designated as subtropical means it has characteristics of both a tropical and a non-tropical cyclone (a low-pressure system that you would typically find over land in the U.S.).

The National Hurricane Center issues routine advisories for subtropical depressions and subtropical storms, just as it does for tropical depressions, tropical storms and hurricanes.

The odds of this happening are very low, but in the outside chance it develops into a subtropical storm with winds of at least 40 mph, it would earn the name "Alex," the first on the naming list for the 2022 Atlantic hurricane season.


Although hurricane season doesn't officially begin until June 1, the past seven seasons have all spawned at least one named storm before that date.

Regardless of what this system is called (or not called), the impacts along the East Coast will be the same as we outlined above.