RALEIGH, N.C. — The first named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season developed off the South Carolina coast Sunday, and forecasters predicted
Tropical Storm Alex
would make landfall in North Carolina.
The National Weather Service reported that tropical storm conditions were possible along the North Carolina coast through early Monday, with wind gusts reaching 50 mph Sunday night and centered around Wilmington.
At 5 a.m., Alex's center was about 100 miles south-southeast of Charleston, S.C.. Maximum winds were blowing at 40 mph, forecasters said.
The storm had become better organized during the afternoon, prompting the National Hurricane Center to extend the tropical storm warning from Cape Hatteras, N.C., to the South Santee River, north of Charleston.
A watch was extended from Cape Hatteras to Oregon Inlet, N.C.
Alex was expected to turn north-northeast and then march up the South Carolina Coast before veering onto land near Morehead City, N.C., some time Monday, forecasters said.
The 5 a.m. advisory from the National Hurricane Center said that even though Alex was stationary, the storm's center was expected to slowly move closer to the coasts of North and South Carolina over the next 24 hours.
It may nick Cape Fear, south of Wilmington, then move onshore around Cape Lookout near Morehead City, N.C., said Reid Hawkins, science officer for the weather service in Wilmington.
Alex started as a tropical depression Saturday. It churned toward South Carolina on Sunday at about 7 mph before becoming stationary and gathering strength, forecasters said.
Even though the storm was near shore, it was not having much impact inland Sunday. Winds in Charleston, Myrtle Beach and Wilmington, N.C., rarely gusted above 15 mph. The sun was coming out between spotty rain showers.
The 2004 hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to Nov. 30, has started slowly. Only two seasons on record have a first depression forming later than July 31, but forecasters caution that has no bearing on overall hurricane activity.
Watch the WRAL News for all the latest storm and preparation information.
Alex is not expected to become a Hurricane, which is 74 mph winds.
Conditions could worsen if the storm begins to move, especially closer to Myrtle Beach and farther up the coast. Forecasters expect winds of 20-30 mph and up to 3 inches of rain in some isolated areas as the tropical storm moves closer, Hawkins said.
The most dangerous part of the storm may be rip currents that can pull swimmers out to sea with little warning, forecasters said.
Tides could be about a foot above normal, flooding some shallow coastal areas and seas should increase to 5 to 6 feet, Hawkins said.
"The most serious threat to public safety is in the strong currents that will result from the tropical storm and we urge people to heed the warnings from local officials to not go swimming or surfing," said Renee Hoffman, a spokeswoman for the North Carolina Department of Crime Control and Public Safety.