Forecasters now say Tropical Storm Hanna will brush the Carolinas coast Saturday, sparing the Charlotte metro region of any threat from heavy rain or severe weather.
Hanna still is expected to reach hurricane status -- barely -- when it makes landfall somewhere between Wilmington and Myrtle Beach on Saturday morning.
The storm system then is forecast plow northward, crossing extreme eastern North Carolina or the Outer Banks before returning into the Atlantic.
Emergency management officials in the Carolinas are responding to the threat by making plans to open evacuation shelters and by activating utility repair crews. North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley also said he is activating the National Guard and other state resources to deal with any threat from Hanna.
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Easley and forecasters also noted that the most recent forecasts for Tropical Storm Ike -- which is hundreds of miles east of Hanna but forecast to become a strong hurricane this weekend -- indicate that system also could threaten the Southeast coast next week.
Hanna, which has lost power and become disorganized while meandering across the southern Bahamas for the last two days, finally started making its long-awaited northward move Wednesday afternoon. The National Hurricane Center in Miami said Hanna, with top sustained winds of 60 mph, is moving northwest about 12 mph.
Those winds are expected to increase slightly Thursday and Friday, as Hanna gains some strength from the warm waters of the Gulf Stream.
Its lack of organization means Hanna is not expected to become a strong hurricane before landfall. But it also means the system's rain bands will be spread farther from the center than usual. Forecasters say some of the rain bands are expected to reach the Charlotte area Friday night. Typically, a hurricane that moves up the Carolinas coast does not spread much rainfall into the Piedmont.
"Hanna is really not well-organized," said Bryan McAvoy, of the National Weather Service office in Greer, S.C. "It really is more subtropical in nature."
Subtropical storms tend to spread precipitation farther from their centers, but they also typically lack the powerful core winds that are present in tropical storms and hurricanes.
Regardless of the storm's makeup, Carolinas officials are preparing for possible trouble.
"The storm's forecast is still uncertain, but we are using this time to get prepared," Easley said. "Having our National Guard on duty and rescue teams and troopers in place means we will be able to get help quickly to those who need it."
The Governor's office said up to 270 members of the National Guard will be in place by Friday, and another 144 N.C. Highway Patrol troopers will be available for deployment to storm-hit areas.
Easley also encouraged residents to prepare family emergency kits.
He said those kits should have "at least three days of food, funds, fuel and clothes."
In the Myrtle Beach area, officials are thinking about how to get all residents to safe ground.
"Once a decision is made for evacuation, we suspend our regular bus routes and dedicate all our resources toward evacuations," David Bodle, director of marketing and communications for The Coast Regional Transportation Authority, told the Myrtle Beach Sun-News.
The Coast RTA will have nine pick-up points from Murrells Inlet to North Myrtle Beach for anyone who needs a ride to inland emergency shelters.
And in Brunswick County, where resorts such as Holden Beach, Ocean Isle and Sunset Beach are popular with Charlotte-area residents, authorities also are preparing.
Ocean Isle Beach employees have begun removing trash cans from beach areas and have taken down banners in the town.
Randy Thompson, Brunswick County's emergency services director, told the Sun-News that his county had talked with the American Red Cross, which is in charge of shelters should an evacuation become necessary, and that calls were being made to the 200 people on the county's special needs list.
The Myrtle Beach Sun-News contributed.