Published: 2014-07-02 05:28:00
Updated: 2014-07-03 05:38:53
Posted July 2, 2014
Updated July 3, 2014
Raleigh, N.C. — A tropical storm warning and hurricane watch were posted by the National Weather Service late Wednesday morning as Arthur, the first named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, churns off the east coast of Florida.
The tropical storm was continuing to gain strength early Wednesday. As of 2 p.m., the storm had sustained winds of 60 mph and was centered about 440 miles south of Raleigh.
"Within the next 24 hours, most likely, it will become a hurricane," WRAL meteorologist Elizabeth Gardner said.
The tropical storm warning is in effect from Little River inlet northward to the Virginia border, according to the National Hurricane Center. a tropical storm warning means that tropical storm conditions are expected somewhere within the warning area within 36 hours.
The hurricane watch is also in effect, from Bogue Inlet to Oregon Inlet and the Pamlico Sound. A tropical storm watch remains in effect south of Little River Inlet to the South Santee River in South Carolina, officials said.
Gov. Pat McCrory, state Emergency Management Director Mike Sprayberry and state Department of Transportation Secretary Tony Tata spoke about the threat from Arthur in Wilmington Wednesday afternoon, warning residents and visitors to stay aware of the changing conditions along the coast during the next 24 to 48 hours.
"Our major goal is to ensure that no lives are lost during this upcoming storm," McCrory said. "We also want to protect all emergency operations and make sure they can do their job in a safe and effective way. We want to encourage citizens to be prepared."
McCrory signed two executive orders Tuesday morning, one a state of emergency for 25 coastal counties that may be impacted by Arthur, the other a waiver that allows emergency management to move assets quicker before, during and after the storm to restore any potential power outages and help any coastal areas impacted by storm surge or high winds.
"Use common sense, stay out of the ocean and sound throughout the duration of the storm. Rip tides are very dangerous," McCrory said. "This is no time to be selfish or pretend to be brave during the storm. Don't put your stupid hat on. Let's be smart, let's help each other, let's help our neighbors."
McCrory ordered the North Carolina National Guard on Wednesday to deploy 30 soldiers for active duty, along with several high-water vehicles, to the Kinston Armory, where they remain on standby. If needed, the guard can expand operations.
"We are not taking this lightly," Sprayberry said.
Arthur is expected to become a hurricane with winds near 85 mph by the time it reaches North Carolina's waters on Thursday afternoon, although the center of the storm could remain off shore.
If the storm's projected path remains the same, the strongest winds – which normally occur east of the center of circulation – could miss the North Carolina coast.
"There is still a small portion of North Carolina that is in the forecast fan, but as we get more forecasts from the National Hurricane Center, they continue to push it farther east and away from North Carolina," Gardner said.
Despite the fact that North Carolina may miss out on Arthur's strongest winds, it will still have an impact on the coast. Rain and wind is likely as the storm passes by, storm surge could climb to 2 to 4 feet in some places and rip currents could be dangerous.
"One of the biggest threats for the Wilmington-area beaches is going to be rip currents," Gardner said. "The threat for bigger surf and stronger winds may be along the Outer Banks beaches."
Hyde County issued a voluntary evacuation order Wednesday afternoon. NC DOT's Ferry Division will begin round-the-clock service from Ocracoke to Hatteras Island beginning at 2 p.m. Wednesday. Ferry tolls on the Ocracoke-Cedar Island and Ocracoke-Swan Quarter runs will be waived until the evacuation order is lifted, and service will continue until weather conditions make it unsafe to operate.
Other decisions regarding voluntary or mandatory evacuations will be made by individual counties, Sprayberry said.
"It's a bit too early to tell what kind of impacts from this storm we will see. We know that there is a possibility of high wind gusts and storm surge," he said. "The rest of the counties will be meeting to discuss whether or not they will have evacuations for this event."
Numerous beaches and campgrounds will begin closing at noon on Wednesday, according to the National Park Service. Campgrounds as Ocracoke, Frisco, Cape Point and Oregon Inlet will close at noon and remain closed until further notice.
Lifeguard stands at Ocracoke, Buxton and Coquina will close at noon Wednesday and remain closed until further notice.
The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse will close at noon Wednesday and remain closed until further notice, and the Bodie Island Lighthouse will close at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday.
All National Park Service beaches will be closed to off-road vehicles by 9 p.m. Wednesday and remain closed until further notice, officials said. Along the Outer Banks, officials said they would close Cape Lookout National Seashore at 5 p.m. Wednesday and reopen when it's safe.
The North Carolina Ferry System is currently operating on its normal schedule, but the system said that could change Thursday evening, especially for the system's southern routes, as the storm moves up the coast.
State Department of Transportation crews are gearing up for the storm along the Outer Banks, staging about 25 front end loaders, motor graders and bulldozers along N.C. Highway 12 in Ocracoke, Rodanthe and Pea Island. The extra equipment is in addition to other equipment already at maintenance yards in Manteo, Ocracoke and Buxton.
"Officials have been at work for two days now, fueling up, getting generators ready, getting signs ready to go," Tata said. "Crews will be on stand-by throughout the storm to be ready to work with power companies if we have outages."
Coastal towns were already making changes to Fourth of July plans. Atlantic Beach officials said the town's annual fireworks show would take place on July 5 at 9 p.m. to avoid the storm. Fireworks in Morehead City will also be delayed to July 5 at 9 p.m.