published Wednesday, July 2nd, 2014

Ahead of July 4th, East Coast eyes tropical storm

People deal with the high surf and currents off Daytona Beach generated by Tropical Storm Arthur on Tuesday, July 1, 2014. A tropical storm watch was in effect for a swath of Florida's east coast.
People deal with the high surf and currents off Daytona Beach generated by Tropical Storm Arthur on Tuesday, July 1, 2014. A tropical storm watch was in effect for a swath of Florida's east coast.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Storm causes rip tide worries for busy Georgia beaches

SAVANNAH, Ga. — Though forecast to remain far at sea while passing the Georgia coast, Tropical Storm Arthur could leave dangerous rip currents in its wake during one of the state's busiest weekends for beach vacations.

The National Hurricane Center on Wednesday predicted the storm's center will stay at least 100 miles from Georgia's beaches as it passes Thursday morning northward toward the Carolinas. Overall that's good news for the tens of thousands of tourists planning to celebrate the Fourth of July weekend on the Georgia coast.

But forecasters warned Arthur could leave turbulent seas in its wake, meaning rip currents strong enough to drag swimmers toward the open ocean could pose threats along Georgia beaches for a full day or more after the storm blows past.

On Tybee Island, which expects up to 30,000 visitors starting Thursday, lifeguards are flying warning flags while the city plans to post a roadside sign alerting beachgoers to beware of rip currents, island Mayor Jason Buelterman said Wednesday. Lifeguards will be prepared to close the waters to swimmers if the seas get too rough, he said.

"There are a lot of people who aren't familiar with rip tides because they don't live near the coast," Buelterman said. "The main thing is telling people if they have kids to be really, really careful because they can be swept out very, very quickly."

Georgia's beach resorts and parks further south — on St. Simons Island, Jekyll Island and Sea Island — are also booked solid for the weekend with about 16,000 tourists, said Scott McQuade, president of the Golden Isles Convention and Visitors Bureau.

He said the storm should be long gone by Friday night, when residents and visitors will be treated to four separate fireworks displays launched from the islands and mainland. Those with boats can watch all four almost simultaneously.

"I think our visitors are probably watching the weather as closely as we are," McQuade said. "But I think most people from what we can tell are keeping their plans and realizing this isn't going to be a major event here."

Clayton Scott, emergency management director for Savannah and surrounding Chatham County, said he expects few problems from Arthur other than rip currents.

If the Wednesday forecast holds, he said, the storm should have bypassed Georgia by the time many residents wake up Thursday morning.

"I think we dodged another one," Scott said.

— The Associated Press

CHARLESTON, S.C. — Along much of the East Coast, hotel owners, tourism officials and would-be vacationers kept a watchful eye on forecasts Wednesday as Tropical Storm Arthur churned off Florida, threatening Fourth of July plans for thousands of people.

A tropical storm warning was issued for the North Carolina coast as the first named storm of the season was expected to strengthen to a hurricane and skim the Outer Banks, a 200-mile string of narrow barrier islands prone to flooding but popular for beachgoers, as a Category 1 hurricane Friday.

But plenty of people planned to continue their trips or ride out the storm. Nancy Janitz, 60, of Jacksonville was watching Arthur's progress closely.

"I have my NOAA radio, and I keep tabs on Twitter and Facebook for updates," she said. "I'm as prepared as I can possibly be."

Lee Nettles, executive director the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau, emphasized reports that show the storm should move fast, and he said the area sees frequent storms — often more severe. "We want everybody to be safe and prepared, but we are not overly concerned at this point," he said.

With four fireworks celebrations planned, some may be delayed, but Nettles said there may be a bright side: "Hey, we may be the area that celebrates the Fourth the longest."

The worst of the storm should be at Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, about dawn Friday, with 3 to 5 inches of rain and sustained winds up to 85 mph, said Tony Saavedra of the National Weather Service. The storm should be off the coast of New England later in the day, perhaps making landfall in Canada's maritime provinces as a tropical storm, he said.

Late Wednesday morning, Arthur was about 105 miles (165 kilometers) east-northeast of Cape Canaveral, Florida, and about 260 miles (420 kilometers) south-southeast of Charleston, South Carolina. It was moving north about 7 mph (11 kph) with maximum sustained winds of 60 mph (95 kph).

A tropical storm watch for Florida's east coast was canceled Wednesday. About an hour north of Cape Canaveral, the Hilton Daytona Beach Oceanfront Resort's holiday reservations were unaffected by the storm, but some precautions were taken, general manager Tom Manno said.

"We've gone through all the emergency procedures, the staff is confident, and everything is in place," Manno said. "Right now the weather is good, the winds are pretty calm, and we're hoping it will remain that way."

Jacksonville Beach was full of people surfing and tanning, with sunny skies and waves as high as 3 feet. Jamie MaCauley, 36, of Atlanta, said she wasn't too concerned about storm beyond a little rain. She and her family didn't want to cancel their trip because of Arthur.

"We were going to come anyway and just try it," she said.

David Barker, 56, of Jacksonville surfed nearby and said the storm is good for waves.

"I have no concerns at all," he said. "I just continue doing my thing."

On Hilton Head Island, on South Carolina's southern tip, there was little concern about Arthur — the storm was forecast to pass the island on Thursday well out at sea.

"It will be a sold-out weekend," said Charlie Clark, spokeswoman for the Hilton Head Island Chamber of Commerce. "We're not getting calls from visitors asking what's up with this storm."

Arthur was forecast to pass Georgia's 100-mile coastline early Thursday, with the storm's center more than 100 miles offshore. For Tybee Island, like other coastal areas, the main concern was potential rip tides as visitors hit the beach for the holiday weekend.

"There are a lot of people who aren't familiar with rip tides because they don't live near the coast," Mayor Jason Buelterman said. "The main thing is telling people if they have kids to be really, really careful because they can be swept out very, very quickly."

AP Interactive: Hurricane season 2014
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