July 4th hurricane looms for US east coast

Last updated 05:17 03/07/2014
Tropical storm Arthur
STORM WARNING: Tropical storm Arthur pictured off the east coast of Florida in this July 1 image from NASA. Arthur is expected to turn into a Category 1 hurricane off the coast of North Carolina on July 4.

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Along much of the East Coast, hotel owners, tourism officials and would-be vacationers kept a watchful eye on forecasts on Wednesday (local time) as Tropical Storm Arthur churned off Florida, threatening Fourth of July plans for thousands of people.

A tropical storm warning was issued for the North Carolina coast as the first named storm of the season was expected to strengthen to a hurricane and skim the Outer Banks, a 200-mile (320-kilometre) string of narrow barrier islands prone to flooding but popular for beachgoers, as a Category 1 hurricane on Friday.

But plenty of people planned to continue their trips or ride out the storm. Nancy Janitz, 60, of Jacksonville was watching Arthur's progress closely.

"I have my NOAA radio, and I keep tabs on Twitter and Facebook for updates," she said. "I'm as prepared as I can possibly be."

Lee Nettles, executive director the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau, emphasized reports that show the storm should move fast, and he said the area sees frequent storms - often more severe. "We want everybody to be safe and prepared, but we are not overly concerned at this point," he said.

With four fireworks celebrations planned, some may be delayed, but Nettles said there may be a bright side: "Hey, we may be the area that celebrates the Fourth the longest."

The worst of the storm should be at Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, about dawn on Friday, with 3 to 5 inches (7-13cm) of rain and sustained winds up to 85 mph (150 kph), said Tony Saavedra of the National Weather Service. The storm should be off the coast of New England later in the day, perhaps making landfall in Canada's maritime provinces as a tropical storm, he said.

Late Wednesday morning, Arthur was about 105 miles (165 kilometres) east-northeast of Cape Canaveral, Florida, and about 260 miles (420 kilometres) south-southeast of Charleston, South Carolina. It was moving north about 7 mph (11 kph) with maximum sustained winds of 60 mph (95 kph).

A tropical storm watch for Florida's east coast was cancelled on Wednesday. About an hour north of Cape Canaveral, the Hilton Daytona Beach Oceanfront Resort's holiday reservations were unaffected by the storm, but some precautions were taken, general manager Tom Manno said.

"We've gone through all the emergency procedures, the staff is confident, and everything is in place," Manno said. "Right now the weather is good, the winds are pretty calm, and we're hoping it will remain that way."

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Jacksonville Beach was full of people surfing and tanning, with sunny skies and waves as high as three feet. Jamie MaCauley, 36, of Atlanta, said she wasn't too concerned about storm beyond a little rain. She and her family didn't want to cancel their trip because of Arthur.

"We were going to come anyway and just try it," she said.

David Barker, 56, of Jacksonville surfed nearby and said the storm is good for waves.

"I have no concerns at all," he said. "I just continue doing my thing."

On Hilton Head Island, on South Carolina's southern tip, there was little concern about Arthur - the storm was forecast to pass the island on Thursday well out at sea.

"It will be a sold-out weekend," said Charlie Clark, spokeswoman for the Hilton Head Island Chamber of Commerce. "We're not getting calls from visitors asking what's up with this storm."

Arthur was forecast to pass Georgia's 100-mile (160-kilometre) coastline early on Thursday, with the storm's centre more than 100 miles offshore. For Tybee Island, like other coastal areas, the main concern was potential rip tides as visitors hit the beach for the holiday weekend.

"There are a lot of people who aren't familiar with rip tides because they don't live near the coast," Mayor Jason Buelterman said. "The main thing is telling people if they have kids to be really, really careful because they can be swept out very, very quickly."

- AP

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