People along the N.C. coast braced for approaching Tropical Storm Danny, which reinforced the dangers of even a weakening storm after a young boy went missing Friday in rough surf.
For most residents of this community, Friday started as a normal, humid summer day with cloudy skies, no rain and chest-high waves crashing onto the sand.
The rough surf quickly proved its danger. Coast Guard and local authorities spent hours searching for a 12-year-old boy who disappeared while body-boarding off the Outer Banks town of Corolla. The boy's mother reported seeing him go underwater and the board washing ashore without him.
Coast Guard spokesman Lt. j.g. Scott Hembrook said the waves in the area weren't that high, only about 4 to 6 feet.
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“What the storm is doing is creating a particularly strong undertow” that can pull swimmers to the bottom, he said. Undertow is created as water that's crashed onshore rushes back out to sea.
But for surf instructor Dave Houck, the building waves promised to be a weekend treat as Danny roiled well out to sea and was expected to churn north without hitting the mainland. He said he usually cancels classes when a tropical storm approaches, but he was on the strand Friday to coach some longtime students.
“This is what surfers love as far as the East Coast is concerned,” said Houck, 33, of nearby Wilmington. “We don't want the mess. We just want the swells when the storm stays off shore.”
Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center said Danny is barely a tropical storm. Its top sustained winds, which were 60 mph Thursday, had dropped to 40 mph Friday afternoon.
And, said meteorologist Lexion Avila of the Hurricane Center, those 40 mph winds were only in a small area northeast of the center. Since Tropical Storm Danny's track is expected to take the storm up the N.C. coast but offshore, it means the strongest winds – on the east side of the storm – will never reach land.
Afterward, Avila said, an approaching cold front is forecast to push Danny to the northeast, away from the United States, and the storm is expected to lose its tropical characteristics later today.
Despite the weakened condition of the storm, though, forecasters still predict dangerous surf and life-threatening rip currents along the N.C. coast today. This will be the second straight weekend of high waves on the coast. Much more powerful Hurricane Bill churned up big surf and created rip currents last weekend when it moved northward, between the N.C. coast and Bermuda.
The N.C. Department of Transportation, while acknowledging that Danny is not forecast to make landfall, said it has put coastal crews on standby and has moved heavy equipment to flood-prone areas in Dare County and to Ocracoke Island. Crews can use front-end loaders, motor graders and bulldozers to push sand off the road, authorities say.
The DOT also says it is offering travel information now on Twitter, the social networking site. Brief updates, or tweets, are available for 16 parts of the state – at www.dot.gov.travel/twitter.