State News

Coastal storm to bring brisk winds, high waves

Posted September 23, 2008 10:31 a.m. EDT
Updated September 23, 2008 5:50 p.m. EDT

— Forecasters posted gale warnings for the Southeast coast due to a storm system threatening to bring stiff winds and heavy seas later this week.

But the weather seemed about par Tuesday to some coastal residents.

On North Carolina's Ocracoke Island, tackle shop owner Charlie O'Neal said the wind was keeping boats close to their docks but that he didn't expect a big storm. Winds were "puffing" to about 25 mph at midday Tuesday, he said.

"It ain't nothing but a nor'easter," O'Neal said. "Not a big blow."

On the Outer Banks, tackle shop employee Ginger Wojciechowski said fishing was great in the right spots on Hatteras Island, describing conditions as "beautiful. The sky is blue, and the wind is blowing."

It was too rough to fish in the surf north of Cape Hatteras, she said, but farther south, "The wind is behind them and it improves your casting."

Meteorologist Hal Austin at the National Weather Service bureau in Newport, N.C., said Tuesday that low pressure off the Southeast coast and a high-pressure system off New England were responsible for the rough conditions.

"It's pretty much a strong nor'easter," Austin said. "We get them in the fall and spring."

Forecasters said winds could gust to 45 mph Wednesday night on Hatteras Island, with lesser winds elsewhere, before subsiding Thursday. Forecasters expected 11- to 15-foot waves in the Atlantic with 8- to 10-foot breakers on the beach.

“If you live along the coast, you just have to keep tabs on this thing,” WRAL Chief Meteorologist Greg Fishel said.

Rip currents, beach erosion and flooding in low coastal areas were expected. Gale warnings were posted for parts of the Florida coast as well as the coasts of Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia.

A small-craft advisory was posted for portions of the Northeast coast.

In South Carolina, forecasters posted a lake wind advisory for parts of the Midlands.

The weather service said northeast winds also could gust to 30 mph Wednesday night in central and eastern parts of North Carolina.

Rain was forecast through Friday night, tapering to showers by Saturday across North Carolina.

However, it's uncertain how strong the system could become because there is a lot of dry air over the coast, which could prevent it from deepening, said Steve Rowley, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Charleston, S.C.

The weather service office in Charleston also warned that mariners plying the coastal waters could expect "extremely hazardous conditions" with at least gale-force winds from Tuesday night through Thursday.

"Beach erosion is a good bet, particularly on northeast-facing beaches," Rowley said.

A second system, now near the Dominican Republic, could form into a tropical storm or hurricane and track north. Computer models show that staying well off the Carolinas, but it still could produce rough seas near the coast, he said.

A tropical system passing, even well out to sea, can still mean long swells sending in larger waves and aggravating beach erosion.

"Folks are still heading to the beach, and water temperatures are still pretty warm, and the rip current risk will remain elevated right into the weekend," Rowley said.

Winds began picking up a bit across South Carolina on Tuesday. By late morning, skies were sunny, but winds were blowing at 21 mph at Charleston's downtown Waterfront Park.

Florence reported winds at 15 mph with gusts to 28 mph, while winds in Myrtle Beach were at 16 mph.