RALEIGH, N.C. — Tropical Storm Cristobal headed for the open Atlantic late Sunday as forecasters discontinued tropical storm warnings along North Carolina.
At 11 p.m., Cristobal was at 35.2 north latitude and 75 west longitude. Maximum sustained winds were nearly 52 mph, an increase of 2 mph from the 8 p.m. advisory. The storm was moving northeast at 9 mph. The storm’s center had moved to 30 miles east of Cape Hatteras.
The National Hurricane Center's advisory said the storm's center would head away from the coast early Monday, and predicted little change in strength over the next day or two.
The storm's strongest winds were east of the center, out at sea, National Weather Service meteorologist Rich Bandy said. Winds on the coastal side of the storm were about 25 mph and will have little impact on coastal cities unless the storm strengthens. A WRAL crew recorded gusts up to 22 mph in Buxton at 6 p.m. Sunday. Earlier, a crew recorded gusts up to 42 mph along the coast from Cristobal.
"There is a little more rain than earlier in the day," Bandy said. "It's not like the whole area is being inundated."
Rain along the coast was widespread Sunday afternoon. Rainfall was expected to be 1 to 2 inches with isolated amounts of 4 to 5 inches in areas where heavy rain bands passed overhead, said Bandy.
Tony Spencer, who lives on Ocracoke and is chief of emergency management in Hyde County, which includes the island as well as mainland, said he had seen "very minor rain.”
"It's been really almost nothing," Spencer said. "No downpours, just sprinkles."
Beachgoers on the coast enjoyed the day despite the rough surf and hit and miss showers.
Lee Revis visited Atlantic Beach on Sunday for a vacation.
“We’re going to make the best of it,” Revis said.
Cristobal's winds were expected to push tides 2 to 3 feet above normal.
The rough surf at Atlantic Beach had A.J. Brooks trading in his surf board for a foam board.
“It’s kind of like a washing machine out there today,” Brooks said of the conditions.
Tourist Hank Dickinson said he and his family were watching the weather, but were not too worried about having to change plans for a beach day at Cape Hatteras.
Wrightsville Beach visitors had mostly clear skies after its brush with Cristobal overnight. Vacationers enjoyed sand and surf, despite some choppy tides that brought out Red Flag warnings.
Realtors in the Cape Hatteras area reported 94 percent occupancy for the weekend with only a few cancellations.
Hal Lester, owner of Finnegan's Dining Haul in Buxton, said a significant storm could disrupt the already fragile beach economy.
“We’re in a situation where we don’t need anything to go wrong. At this point, there’s a lot of people out here that are just kind of living on the edge,” Lester said.
The National Weather Service said a few areas could see flooding from heavy rain. Minor flooding was reported Saturday in Wilmington, N.C., and the area picked up 3.43 inches of rain, a record for the day.
Bandy said some rain was falling over the smoldering wildfire that has burned 64 square miles in Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge since it was started by lightning June 1.
"We're still seeing fairly continuous bands of showers and isolated thunderstorms moving through eastern North Carolina," said Mark Willis, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service bureau in Newport. "There are going to be some areas that don't receive anything and other areas will get several inches."
Farther inland, scattered showers can not be ruled out, but the Triangle will likely not see significant rainfall from the storm.
"The best chance of any showers and storms Sunday will be along and east of I-95, as Tropical Storm Cristobal pulls out to sea," WRAL Chief Meteorologist Greg Fishel said.
Cristobal should start pulling away from the North Carolina coast early Monday.
Rescue officials warned that rip currents will pose a danger and urged swimmers and boaters to stay out of the water on Sunday.
"Coast Guard units will remain operational to assist mariners in distress," said Chief Petty Officer Thomas Sudsberry. "As the heavier weather rolls in and the wind speeds pick up, some small boat stations along the coast may have slower response times or be unable to respond."
Amid strong rip currents on Friday, one man died in the ocean, and rescuers pulled 72 people from the ocean off Duck, Southern Shores and Nags Head in the northern Outer Banks.
Check out 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.