Tropical storm warnings issued for the Myrtle Beach area Wednesday kept officials monitoring the movements of the first storm system of this year’s Atlantic hurricane season and its potential impact for the July Fourth holiday, while much of the North Carolina coast and some of Virginia are under a hurricaned warning..
As updates were begin provided on tropical storm Arthur, area officials were reminding residents and visitors to take precautions and use care, including in the ocean. Horry County school district cancelled Thursday summer classes as a precaution, while Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce officials were looking ahead to Friday, when the is expected to have passed and holiday celebrations will begin.
At 6:15 p.m. Wednesday, Arthur was named a hurricane Thursday morning according to the National Hurricane Center. It had maximum sustained winds of 75 mph and was moving north about 9 mph.
A tropical storm warning means that tropical storm conditions are expected within the area within 36 hours. Weather service officials say the worst of Arthur should hit the Myrtle Beach area Thursday afternoon, with wind gusts that could reach near 40 mph — strong enough to down some tree branches.
Emergency managers in Horry and Georgetown counties, along with state officials, moved their Operating Conditions to Level 4, which means they are monitoring conditions and on alert, officials said. It is the second lowest of five operational conditions.
Local officials said they also are discussing any potential threats to the area with state officials and weather experts.
Derrec Becker, a spokesman for the S.C. Emergency Management Division, said
“People in potentially vulnerable areas should review their plans and consider actions they would need to take if the storm threatens South Carolina. The public should monitor the storm on NOAA weather radio and through local news media, especially people in low-lying areas along the South Carolina coast.”
Horry County Schools canceled summer school classes for Thursday. Teal Harding, district spokeswoman, said the precautionary move was based on weather predictions for winds, as school buses are not allowed to transport students if there are sustained winds of 35 mph. There are about 200 students who are attending summer school at four middle schools — Whittemore Park, Ocean Bay, St. James and Loris — Harding said.
Brad Dean, president of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, said he expects Arthur to have little impact on the area’s holiday weekend.
“We anticipate a wet, windy start to the holiday weekend, which may actually drive some business to the indoor amusements in our area, but overall it will be a fun time for visitors and residents,” Dean said Wednesday. “Visitors are still planning to come, and the weekend should be packed with vacationers.”
In a briefing Wednesday afternoon Arthur was following all of the weather models and was expected to become a minimal hurricane off the coast that would brush by the Myrtle Beach area Thursday and mainly affect the barrier islands of North Carolina, said Steven Pfaff, a weather service spokesman.
The Myrtle Beach area is expected to see some brief, tropical downpours Thursday, but no tropical storm-force winds, said Stephen Keebler with the weather service.
Strong rip currents are expected to be the biggest threat up and down the coast, and swimmers should remain out of the water and not let their guard down, even as sunshine begins to return, forecasters said.
Pfaff said he wouldn’t be shocked to see storm watches lowered in Horry and Georgetown counties, because Arthur is a small storm that will have minimum impact, although he said a subtle westward shift could bring stronger winds.
Officials warned that winds over 40 mph has the potential to knock down small, weak trees, which could cause isolated power outages.
“This will be a good test of [safety] procedures,” Pfaff said.
Residents were urged to prepare and stock their emergency kits and monitor weather conditions and emergency management directives, according to a release from the Red Cross.
“It pays to be prepared for whatever the weather may bring,” said Louise Welch Williams, regional chief executive officer for the Palmetto Region of the American Red Cross. “Red Cross is working closely with local officials and stands ready, and we encourage everyone to get prepared for this storm threat and the hurricane season.”