Coastal officials in North Carolina announced voluntary evacuations Wednesday as Tropical Storm Arthur began moving up the East Coast.
A tropical storm warning is in effect for the entire North Carolina coast for Arthur, which is expected to be a hurricane as it pushes northward offshore from the Carolinas on Thursday and early Friday, on the busiest tourist weekend of the year.
North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory and emergency management officials said their concerns are heightened because tens of thousands of tourists from other parts of the country are visiting the coast this weekend and might not be familiar with the dangers of tropical weather systems.
“Don’t put your ‘stupid hat’ on,” McCrory said during a midday news conference Wednesday in Wilmington. “This is no time to act brave.”
A hurricane watch is posted for the Outer Banks area of North Carolina,. and a tropical storm watch is in effect for the South Carolina coast north of Charleston.
McCrory declared a state of emergency for 25 coastal-area counties, and officials in Hyde County at the southern end of the Outer Banks announced a voluntary evacuation. McCrory said any evacuation orders are being issued by county officials.
Due to the Ocracoke evacuations, ferry service will run 24 hours with no tolls charged to and from Ocracoke.
In addition, the National Park Service announced that campgrounds and tourist attractions along the Outer Banks are being closed Wednesday until the storm passes.
The National Hurricane Center said the current forecast track for the storm would keep it off the Carolinas coast, except for a near-miss aound Ocracoke Island and nearby areas of the Outer Banks.
High surf and a danger of rip currents is expected to the biggest threat for the Carolinas’ coastal areas south of the Jacksonville area. Several people drowned in rip current-related incidents last Independence Day holiday from Wilmington-area beaches south to the Grand Strand.
“Stay out of the ocean,” McCrory advised those at the coast. “Rip tides are very dangerous, no matter what your level of swimming expertise.”
The resort towns of Sunset Beach and Topsail Beach issued advisories to residents about being careful for rip currents when entering the surf.
Officials along the Carolinas coast say they are watching the situation closely, with hundreds of thousands of tourists visiting the beaches for the Independence Day holiday.
The exact track of Arthur will make a big difference in determining whether any evacuations are required, officials said.
At 11 a.m., the center of Tropical Storm Arthur was about 165 miles east-northeast of Cape Canaveral, Fla. The storm had top sustained winds of 60 mph and was moving northward about 6 mph.
Arthur was a ragged-looking storm, with most of the strong winds on the south and east side. Some dry air from the Carolinas was being dragged into the north part of the circulation, but Brennan said computer models indicate Arthur will take on a more typical cyclonic formation during Wednesday.
The S.C. Emergency Management Division said it is at the second of five levels of emergency preparedness. However, the National Hurricane Center’s official forecast keeps Arthur about 150 miles off the South Carolina coast as it approaches Thursday.
It is a different story farther to the north, along the Outer Banks. The eye of Arthur could pass close to the Cape Lookout area, according to meteorologists.
Dare County Emergency Management said officials will meet later Wednesday, once they have a better idea of the forecast track of the store. In Hyde County, officials said the center of Arthur is expected to pass just east of Ocracoke Island early on the Fourth of July.
Sarah Johnson, a spokeswoman for Hyde County, said Emergency Services Director Justin Gibbs and County Manager Bill Rich will be updating residents and business owners on any storm-related updates.
North Carolina Transportation Secretary Tony Tata said road crews have been staged along the coast, with special attention being paid to the Outer Banks. N.C. 12, which runs up and down the barrier islands, is prone to flooding in tropical weather systems.
“On the Outer Banks, crews are staging 25 pieces of equipment along N.C. 12, to be ready,” he said.