Tropical Storm Arthur strengthens off Florida

07/01/2014 11:31 PM

07/02/2014 6:26 AM

With the July Fourth weekend on the horizon, the Atlantic hurricane season’s first named storm gradually gained strength off Florida’s coast on Tuesday, though Arthur wasn’t yet spooking too many in the storm’s potential path.

The projected path Tuesday showed the tropical storm passing east of Horry County.

Reid Hawkins, a meteorologist with the NWS in Wilmington, N.C., said a tropical storm watch could be issued Tuesday evening or Wednesday morning. TS Arthur is expected to pass to the east of Horry County midday Thursday with maximum winds around 75 mph near and east of the center of the storm.

“Depending on how close the track of the storm is to our region the coastal areas may be impacted by winds close to tropical storm strength, especially areas from North Myrtle Beach northward,” Hawkins said.

Rainfall as of Tuesday afternoon was forecasted to be 1 to 2 inches in coastal counties with less than an inch elsewhere.

Horry County at noon Tuesday moved to Operating Condition Level 4, said county spokeswoman Kelly Brosky. OPCON 4 puts the county on alert for Tropical Storm Arthur, but does not open the county's Emergency Operation's Center. Georgetown County dropped to OPCON 4 at 2 p.m.

Horry County officials are monitoring the storm and have started discussions with S.C. Emergency Management, the National Weather Service and neighboring communities.

Brosky said residents should begin reviewing family hurricane plans and making sure items such as water, batteries and flashlights are stocked.

“I think everybody’s keeping one eye on the weather and one eye on the events this weekend,” said Joe Marinelli, president of Visit Savannah, the city’s tourism bureau.

A tropical storm watch was in effect for a swath of Florida’s east coast, and the National Hurricane Center urged those as far north as parts of Virginia to monitor Arthur’s path.

On Tuesday afternoon, the storm swirled about 90 miles off the coast of Cape Canaveral, moving about 5 mph (7kph) with maximum sustained winds about 40 mph (65 kph).

Off Florida’s Space Coast beaches – the closest to Arthur – the sky was cloudy and winds fairly normal, said Eisen Witcher, assistant chief of Brevard County Ocean Rescue.

Red flags warned of rough surf, and beachgoers were advised to get into the water only in areas with manned lifeguard stands. But overall, Witcher said, “it’s business as usual.”

Red flags also flew at Daytona Beach. By mid-day, a dozen swimmers had been aided by lifeguards when they got caught in a rip current. On any given day, 15 to 20 swimmers need help, said Tammy Marris, spokeswoman for the Volusia County Beach Patrol.

There were no official warnings for other states, but forecasters started to warn of rain, heavy surf and swells, and potential rip tides.

In North Carolina’s Outer Banks, officials said they would close Cape Lookout National Seashore at 5 p.m. Wednesday and reopen when it’s safe.

The motel Shutters on the Banks is completely booked for the holiday weekend, general manager John Zeller said, despite National Weather Service forecasts for potentially heavy rain, gusty winds and isolated tornadoes late Thursday and Friday.

“We have received some cancellations but not too many,” he said. “Basically we are telling people to kind of wait and see what happens. We’re a little too far out at this point. I think everybody is kind of watching the weather.”

The motel has a 72-hour advance notice on cancellations, but Zeller said it will be waived if the storm’s track heads toward the area or warnings are issued.

In Folly Beach, South Carolina, dozens of people fished from the pier under sunny skies Tuesday. Others surfed on the gentle swells, sunbathed and looked for shells.

In Savannah, rooms in the downtown historic district were expected to be at least 80 percent full for the Fourth of July weekend, when crowds pack the beach on neighboring Tybee Island. Hotel managers and vacation rental owners were watching forecasts, hoping the storm will stay off Georgia’s 100-mile coastline.

Cancellations aren’t uncommon when storms approach, but those calls weren’t coming in Tuesday afternoon, Marinelli said.

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