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Tropical storm threatens N.C. coast

Posted July 19, 2008
Updated July 20, 2008

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— Beach-goers enjoyed the high surf and bits of sunshine along the North Carolina coast early Saturday, even as the first named tropical storm to threaten the U.S. moved north from South Carolina.

While Cristobal had 11 eastern N.C. counties under a tropical storm warning, its far outer bands also helped stir up rain in central parts of the state. In Orange County, 2 1/2 inches fell within an hour near Carrboro, prompting a flash flood warning for part of Saturday evening.

Cristobal was upgraded from a tropical depression around 2 p.m. and has sustained winds of 46 mph.

WRAL News' coverage of Cristobal continues Sunday, with Erin Coleman in Atlantic Beach and Dan Bowens in the Outer Banks.

The storm dumped 3 to 4 inches in some places in southern coastal counties, including a record 3.43 inches in Wilmington. In central N.C., Chapel Hill recieved 1.22 inches of rain; Raleigh, 0.76 inches; and Fayetteville, 0.62 inches.

At 11 p.m. Saturday, Cristobal's center was at 33.4 north latitude abd 77.5 west longitude, about 130 miles east of Charleston, S.C., and 185 miles southwest of Hatteras. The storm was moving northeast at nearly 6 mph and was predicted to hug North Carolina's coast throughout Sunday before moving off into the Atlantic in the evening.

Follow Cristobal's course with WRAL's StormTracker.

Although Cristobal'ws winds did not present a problem along the coast, lifegaurds stood watch over 6- to 8-foot seas, keeping an eye out for rip tides. Red flags warned swimmers not to go too far out in the ocean.

"The rip currents are pulling strong," said Dave Baker, director of the Wrightsville Beach Ocean Rescue.

Throughout the day, though, surfers played in high waves kicked up in advance of the storm, and other beach-goers enjoyed partly sunny skies.

See images of Tropical Storm Cristobal's action along the coast. Submit your own photos.

"A lot of fun for surfers right now," surfer Tim McAuiliffe said. "Swimmers are kind of out of the water, because it's so rough, so we're really having a lot of fun."

"I was sitting, thinking about back home and wondering if this Atlantic would take me all the way back to Ghana," said Patrick Oqauye, who lives in Raleigh.

Amy Avery, of Cary, said her husband and children got in more than a little beach time during breaks in the rain.

"We're veterans down here," Avery said. "We've been coming here for about 18 years now, and until it becomes a named storm above (hurricane-strength category 2), then we start getting nervous. But until it's a 2, we don't think too much. We just be cautious that's all.

In the evening, though, dark clouds and rain came in and started driving vacationers off the beach.

"We played in the surf, and we got really west and had a lot of fun," tourist Bridgette Shuler, said of her time with her daughters on the beach. "We're going home now."

Baker praised such caution in vacationers.

"People need to understand that you're putting your emergency service personnel at risk if you don't heed our warnings," Baker said.

The National Weather Service declared the system a tropical depression on Friday night.

To be classified as a tropical system, a storm must have its warmest air in its central core. That warmer spurs the formation of rain that's heavier and more intense than those generated by regular coastal storms, such as nor'easters. High winds, though, tend to be more widely spread in coastal storms than in tropical systems.

How much the storm intensifies depends on whether it stays over the warmer waters of the Gulf Stream or tracks more inland.

See the locations where WRAL News crews will be covering Tropical Storm Cristobal.

Are you prepared for Hurricane Season? Watch the "Storm Track 2008" special airing at 7 p.m. July 31 on WRAL.

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