State News

Coastal storm could become tropical

Posted September 24, 2008 6:33 a.m. EDT
Updated September 25, 2008 12:42 a.m. EDT

— A weather system that could strengthen into a tropical storm was poised to hit North Carolina's coastline with 40 mph wind gusts and several inches of rain, forecasters said Wednesday.

Meteorologist Mark Bacon at the National Weather Service office in Wilmington said the storm probably would turn westward and come ashore early Thursday near Cape Fear.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami said the system was very wide and could bring winds to a large coastal area. A hurricane hunter aircraft was being sent to examine the storm.

Gale warnings were posted for most of the Southeast coast from Florida to north of Maryland. Forecasters also issued a warning for hurricane-force wind, meaning ships more than 20 miles out at sea could expect winds of 65 mph or more. Waves Wednesday afternoon near the Gulf Stream could tower between 20 and 30 feet, subsiding to 8 to 12 feet Thursday night, the weather service said.

Twelve central-state counties, including Wake, Johnston, Harnett, Wayne, Wilson and Edgecombe, were under a wind advisory until 9 p.m. Thursday. Advisories in a number of eastern counties were posted to expire earlier Thursday.

The Triangle saw wind gusts in the 20 mph and 30 mph ranges on Wednesday, WRAL meteorologist Mike Maze said.

Thursday will be cloudy and windy, with rain likely. The rain is expected to develop around daybreak and increase through the morning. Rainfall totals could reach more than an inch in some places.

Thursday's highs will be in the low to middle 60s.

The hurricane center said chances were more than 50 percent that the storm would become a tropical system – a rotating mass of wind and rain that sometimes can strengthen into a hurricane. It also said a low-pressure system over Hispaniola, the island shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic, had potential to strengthen as it moved northward.

Dare County officials closed N.C. Highway 12 in Rodanthe at about 5 p.m. Wednesday after water covered the road. The road was reopen just after 10 p.m. County emergency management officials said they expect the storm to generate heavy wind and rain. The storm could also cause power outages and generate flooding near coastal areas.

Dare County Emergency Director Sandy Sanderson urged vacationers to ride out the storm at their cottages and hotels.

Along the North and South Carolina coast, some seasoned residents said the storm was a typical blast that kicked up waves and kept most boats tied to their docks.

"Nobody's fishing. The ocean's too choppy. Solid whitecaps. The wind's ripping," said Ocracoke Island charter captain Dave Nagel. "It's just a regular old nor'easter."

Nagel said he saw a few larger commercial fishing boats heading out of the island's harbor to try to get their nets and tides in the sounds between barrier islands and the mainland were coming over the bank, "but they're not extreme."

Schools closed early in Dare County on the Outer Banks, said county spokeswoman Dorothy Toolan. The local premiere of the movie "Nights in Rodanthe" was going ahead as scheduled, but locals who were in the film and drove up Hatteras Island were offered discounted motel rooms if they needed to stay.

The North Carolina Ferry Division limited hours on the Hatteras-to-Ocracoke ferry route and canceled the afternoon run from Swan Quarter to Ocracoke because of high winds.

In Charleston, S.C., Dustin Ryan, part-owner and captain of Charleston Sailing Charters, said he was staying close to port and hoping for good weather by Friday.

"It makes for a restless night on a boat if you're sleeping in the marina, but that's about it," Ryan said.

Michael Emlaw, meteorologist at the National Weather Service's Charleston office, said large waves will cause beach erosion and some coastal flooding at high tide.

In Annapolis, Md., city officials were offering sandbags to prepare for the possibility of flooding in the low-lying City Dock area. They will likely be available through Friday.