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Gabrielle fizzles along N.C. shore

HATTERAS, N.C. --A mostly punchless Tropical Storm Gabrielle washed ashore Sunday in North Carolina, crawling slowly along the Outer Banks without chasing vacationers from the shore.

Gabrielle brought with it gusty winds that howled at 50 mph, churning up the Atlantic to the delight of surfers and kiteboarders eager to play in the breaking waves. Officials urged caution but said Sunday evening that Gabrielle would be remembered mostly as an inconvenience.

"We haven't had any requests for assistance," said Julia Jarema, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Crime Control and Public Safety. "We'll be glad to help out if anybody needs it, but right now, we're not hearing anything. It's been kind of quiet."

If anything, residents of eastern North Carolina were annoyed that Gabrielle failed to dump much rain inland. All of the state's 100 counties are experiencing drought conditions, 91 in a severe drought or worse, and there was hope the first storm of the Atlantic hurricane season to reach the state would prove to be a blessing.

While some spots did get some significant rain - more than 8 inches in Beaufort and high totals in the remainder of Carteret County - Gabrielle generally failed to deliver.

"We're glad we didn't have any flooding or wind damage, but the rain would have been nice," Jarema said. "The coast got some rain, but they were the ones with the least problems from the drought."

The National Weather Service said 1.5 feet of water from Pamlico Sound covered parts of Highway 12 near Salvo - a common spot for overwash - but that the roadway was still passable.

Gabrielle bypassed the Grand Strand, which is also experiencing drought conditions. In South Carolina, all counties but Beaufort and Jasper were ruled into the severe category Wednesday by the state Drought Response Committee. The state had been under moderate drought conditions since June 6.

In the Myrtle Beach area, rainfall is 8 1/3 inches below normal, said Steve Pfaff, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Wilmington, N.C. A cold front is expected to cross the Carolinas, increasing the chances for rain midweek, he said.

Just before 8 p.m., the center of the storm was about 8 miles west of Kill Devil Hills, headed north-northeast near 12 mph. Its maximum sustained winds had dropped to 45 mph, with stronger gusts, and little change in its strength was forecast in the next 24 hours.

Forecasters expected it would pass over the Outer Banks near Nags Head on Sunday night on its way back out to sea.

Officials preached caution throughout the day. They closed campgrounds on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore and put swift water rescue teams and National Guard units on standby. But no one was ordered to evacuate, and officials said the greatest danger was posed by rip currents threatening swimmers who dared to venture into the ocean.

On Sunday, the National Weather Service issued a moderate rip current advisory for Horry and Georgetown counties and Brunswick County, N.C. For the rest of the week, the rip currents advisory will be set at low risk, Pfaff said.

"We had heavy surf, but you could tell from looking at it the currents were strong," said Dare County spokeswoman Dorothy Toolan. "People took the advice and stayed out of it today."

Officials in Dare, Hyde and Currituck counties, which cover most of the Outer Banks, said Sunday they had no reports of any water rescues tied to Gabrielle.

Gabrielle spun into a storm late Friday after wandering in the Atlantic for several days, caught along an old frontal boundary that stalled about midway between the Southeast coast and Bermuda. Forecasters first labeled it a subtropical storm - a hybrid system that takes power from warm ocean waters but also forms from warm and cold fronts colliding - before classifying it a tropical system.

Staff writer Aliana Ramos contributed to this report.