WILMINGTON, N.C. — Police and Coast Guard searchers were looking for a missing person Saturday night in the water and on the sand as night fell over Wrightsville Beach. All authorities would say is that the missing person was an adult.
"We're going to be flying red flags all of Memorial Day weekend into Monday due to the high surf and strong rip currents we're seeing out here," said Jeremy Owens of NC Ocean Rescue. "We're advising all the swimmers to stay out of the water."
The rough surf was a remnant of Beryl, a sub-tropical weather system out in the Atlantic, expected to turn south and west in coming days.
The Red Cross on Saturday warned swimmers about strong rip currents, advising beach-goers to swim only on lifeguard-protected beaches within designated swimming areas. Rip currents could become more powerful and frequent Saturday evening as Beryl draws closer to the southeast coast along South Carolina.
The Red Cross also provided several tips for swimmers who may become caught in a rip current:
- Never fight against the current.
- Swim out of the current in a direction following the shoreline. When out of a current, swim at an angle toward the shore.
- People unable to swim out of a rip current should float calmly or tread water.
- People unable to reach the shore should draw attention to themselves by waving their arms and yelling for help.
- Stay at least 100 feet from piers and jetties, as permanent rip currents often exist near them.
- If someone is in trouble, get a lifeguard for assistance.
Tropical storm warnings were in effect for the entire Georgia coastline, as well as parts of Florida and South Carolina, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami. A tropical storm watch for the South Carolina coast north of Edisto Beach was discontinued late Saturday night.
As of 11 p.m. EDT Saturday, Beryl was centered about 215 miles (346 kilometers) southeast of Charleston, S.C. It had maximum sustained winds of 50 mph (80 kph). It was moving toward the southwest at 7 mph (11 kph), with its center expected to be near the U.S. coast on Sunday. The storm was expected to make landfall Sunday night or Monday.
"Beryl won't make a direct hit on the North Carolina coast, but we'll need to keep watching it into the middle of the week," said WRAL meteorologist Aimee Wilmoth.
The outer bands of Beryl were expected to bring showers and thunderstorms to beach communities from Cape Hatteras to northern Florida over the next couple of days.
Any storms will be hit or miss, Wilmoth said, and most days will see periods of both sun and clouds.
Tourism, travel up from a year ago
The unofficial start of summer brought a welcome boost to North Carolina beach towns, despite the threat of the season's second tropical storm.
"There are about a million people here and 200 parking spots," said one visitor.
Companies that rent to vacationers in Wrightsville Beach, Kure Beach and Carolina Beach say that reservations are pacing about 20 percent ahead of last year. Prices are up too, rental managers say. Many families are opting for a bigger place or a location closer to the beach than in years past.
Nationwide, experts are looking for summer travel to be about flat compared with last year. Alan Pisarski, independent consultant for the tourism industry, said concerns about the economy, primarily about jobs and housing, will keep many people at home. Others will likely travel less than they'd planned.
But a trip to the beach is a short one for Triangle residents, who took advantage of gas prices that were cheaper than they have been in the last two summers to head east for Memorial Day weekend. Pump prices are down 27 cents since their peak in early April, to $3.67 a gallon.
About 30.7 million people will drive more than 50 miles for Memorial Day trips, according to auto club AAA. That's 400,000 more than last year, a jump AAA attributes to improvement in the economy and consumer attitudes.