Coastal Storm Earns a Name: Gabrielle

The National Hurricane Center in Miami issued a a tropical storm watch for portions of the South Carolina and North Carolina coasts from Edisto Beach north to Oregon Inlet, including the Pamlico Sound.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — The National Hurricane Center in Miami gave a storm off the Carolina coast the name Gabrielle late Friday and issued a tropical storm watch for portions of the coast from Edisto Beach, S.C., to Oregon Inlet, including Pamlico Sound.

A tropical storm watch means that tropical storm conditions are possible within that area, generally within 36 hours.

"It's being a little persnickety," WRAL Meteorologist Mike Maze said. "Will it become a hurricane? We'll have to watch and wait and see."

At 11 p.m. Friday, Gabrielle's "broad and elongated center" was near latitude 30.4 degrees north and longitude 72.2 degrees west, or about 385 miles southeast of Cape Lookout, the Hurricane Center said.

The storm was moving west-northwest at almost 10 mph, forecasters said, and they added that it should continue to move that way through Saturday night.

The top sustained winds were near 45 mph. Aircraft found that 40 mph winds extended outward up to 105 miles north of the center.

Forecasters had said earlier Friday that they do not expect the Triangle to see any rain this weekend. With the storm's updated status, they were continuing to monitor the situation.

Along the coast, the U.S. Coast Guard issued an advisory that it was declaring "Condition X-ray" for the ports at Morehead City and Wilmington, meaning it foresaw possible winds of 39 mph or more within 48 hours.

Large vessels are required to leave the port to avoid being damaged there, and anything along docks that could be blown around in high winds or might cause pollution if it were damaged should be moved away from the water's edge, the Coast Guard said.

Condition X-ray also means that owners of smaller boats were urged to take them to inland marinas, and boats that can be put on trailers should be taken to safe areas.

“The upper-level wind pattern is not optimal,” WRAL Chief Meteorologist Greg Fishel said earlier Friday. “But if that relaxes even more over the next 24 hours, there’s really no reason why this thing couldn’t become a strong tropical storm or perhaps even a minimal hurricane over the weekend.”

WRAL Reporter Ken Smith was in Kill Devil Hills Friday and said the possibility of a storm didn’t seem to be scaring away beach-goers.

“It’s been beautiful this week,” said visitor Phil Arnold. “Good temperature, nice weather, warm water.”

But emergency management officials met Friday to discuss the storm and prepare for the worst.

Chief Doug Penland, with the Kill Devil Hills Fire & Rescue Department, said the storm kicked up the surf Friday. But the overactive ocean didn't warrant a rip tide warning yet.

“As the storm progresses, if it does approach, obviously we’ll get some surf increasing and other concerns,” Penland said. “And we’ll try to get that information out as it comes to us.”

Dare County Emergency Management Director Sandy Sanderson said local agencies that cover water, power and roads have been on stand by.

Satellite images from Friday afternoon showed the system was developing colder cloud tops, which generate more air convection and thunderstorm activity, according to WRAL Meteorologist Elizabeth Gardner.

Strong upper-level winds had been tearing up the system in recent days, reducing it to an elongated area of low-pressure over the ocean, but those forces abated some Friday.

"The upper-level winds have changed a bit and are more favorable for (storm) development," Gardner said.

WRAL Meteorologist Chris Thompson said the system was in an area of warm ocean temperatures, which are favorable for tropical storm development, but it continued to fluctuate.

If the system develops into a storm, it would not likely arrive on land until sometime after noon Sunday, Thompson said.

The eastern part of the state would most likely see the most rainfall, while the Triangle could expect little, if any, precipitation, he said.

That is bad news in light of Gov. Mike Easley's office reporting Friday that the U.S. Drought Monitor, a federal service, had placed all 100 of the state's counties are in some level of drought. Seven are in "exceptional drought" – the worst situation – and 66 are in "extreme drought," the governor's office said.

Twenty counties are listed as being in "severe" drought and the remaining seven in "moderate" drought.


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