CHARLESTON, S.C. — As one of the year’s busiest travel weekends approaches, so does another visitor: Tropical Storm Arthur, expected to grow into a hurricane by the Fourth of July and hit most harshly at North Carolina’s Outer Banks, a popular getaway spot of thin barrier islands along the shore.
The first named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season prompted a hurricane warning for a wide swath of the North Carolina coast and had officials, hotel owners and would-be vacationers as far north as New England carefully watching forecasts.
The Outer Banks will be especially vulnerable, forecasters said. The area’s tourism agency expects about 250,000 people to travel there and stay in hotels and rental homes for the long holiday weekend.
“We want everybody to be safe and prepared, but we are not overly concerned at this point,” said Lee Nettles, executive director the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau.
He noted that forecasters were predicting that the storm would move fast and be less severe than others in locals’ memories.
But flooding concerns remained: Twice in recent years, storm-driven waves have sliced North Carolina Route 12, the main road along the islands, rendering it impassable. On Ocracoke Island, accessible only by ferry, a voluntary evacuation was announced.
Emergency officials were ordering a mandatory evacuation of a fragile barrier island along North Carolina’s Outer Banks as the storm approaches. Dare County officials said Wednesday that the mandatory evacuation of Hatteras Island would begin at 5 a.m. today. After that time, no one will be allowed on the island.
The officials said residents and out-of-town visitors who may already have arrived for the Fourth of July weekend should evacuate during daylight hours, before the tropical storm brings high winds, rough seas, dangerous rip currents and possible flooding on N.C. 12. The two-lane highway is the only way on and off the island other than ferries to the south.
The National Hurricane Center has issued a hurricane warning for all of Dare County. Arthur is expected to become a hurricane by today.
Stores saw runs on generators, lanterns and flashlights, but even some workers weren’t yet concerned.
“I’ve been through Irene. I went through Isabelle,” said Bill Motley, who works at Ace Hardware in Nags Head and has lived on the Outer Banks for 13 years. “I’m not even worried about this one. I’m more worried about my tomato plants. With the wind coming, if we get a 50-mph gust, it will knock over my tomato plants.”
At a news conference, Gov. Pat McCrory advised residents, “Don’t put your stupid hat on.” With concerns of rip tides, he urged surfers and swimmers not to get in the water, regardless of how good the waves might be.
“Our major goal is to ensure that no lives are lost during this upcoming storm,” including those of emergency workers, Mr. McCrory said. He declared a state of emergency for 25 coastal and adjoining counties.
Nancy Janitz, 60, of Jacksonville, N.C., said she was ready, thanks to technology. “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.”
On Wednesday night, Arthur was about 180 miles south-southeast of Charleston and moving north about 7 mph, with maximum sustained winds of 70 mph. The National Hurricane Center predicted that it would grow to a Category 1 hurricane with sustained winds of at least 74 mph either late Wednesday or sometime today.
The forecast did not call for a landfall in the United States, but officials and travelers north to New England kept an eye on the storm’s projected path. Many areas warned of upcoming rain, wind and potential rip tides.
The worst of the storm should occur at Cape Hatteras about dawn Friday, with 3 to 5 inches of rain and sustained winds up to 85 mph, said National Weather Service meteorologist Tony Saavedra. But forecasters said that by later Friday, the effects of Arthur would be past the Outer Banks, with the rest of the weekend salvaged.
The Hurricane Center predicted that the storm would be off the coast of New England later in the day and eventually make landfall in Canada’s maritime provinces as a tropical storm.
In the Myrtle Beach area, the heart of South Carolina’s $18 billion tourism industry, Arthur was expected to move in by tonight, spinning wind gusts from 40 to 50 mph toward the high-rise hotels and condominiums lining the oceanfront. Farther south, in Hilton Head Island on the state’s southern tip, most were confident that it would pass well out at sea.
“It will be a sold-out weekend,”predicted Charlie Clark, spokeswoman for the local Chamber of Commerce. “... We’re not getting calls from visitors asking what’s up with this storm.”
Back on North Carolina’s storm-tested Hatteras Island, one longtime resident said she had stocked up on supplies but was otherwise unfazed by Arthur’s approach. Even though Dawn Taylor had to put coolers on the top floor of her home in Avon to catch the rain after Hurricane Irene damaged the roof in 2011, she won’t leave her home because of a hurricane. And certainly not this one. Even her 85-year-old father is staying put with her.
And her advice to less experienced tourists? Think twice before riding things out on the island. “It’s not their environment. They’re not used to it,” she said.United States - North America - Charleston - South Carolina - North Carolina - Pat McCrory