Tropical Storm Bonnie sends rain ashore

This is the latest area of the U.S. East Coast likely to be affected by a likely tropical storm in the Atlantic.
This is the latest area of the U.S. East Coast likely to be affected by a likely tropical storm in the Atlantic. NOAA via WBTV

Bands of showers and rough surf Saturday heralded the expected arrival Sunday of Tropical Storm Bonnie, which is expected to make landfall somewhere near Charleston.

The system, which reached tropical storm status Saturday afternoon, is forecast to make a rainy mess of the first holiday weekend of the summer season.

Off-and-on rainfall will reach as far inland as Charlotte, meteorologists said, possibly throwing a wrench into plans to run the Coca-Cola 600 Sprint Cup race as scheduled Sunday at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

National Weather Service meteorologist Trisha Palmer summed up Sunday’s weather for Charlotte this way: “In general, Sunday looks like a fairly rainy day.”

A Tropical Storm Warning is in effect for the South Carolina coast, but authorities warned of dangerous rip currents all the way from the Outer Banks to northern Florida.

Early Saturday evening, the center of Bonnie was about 125 miles south-southeast of Charleston. The storm, which had top sustained winds of 40 mph, was expected to slow considerably from its speed of 12 mph, make landfall about midday Sunday, and then virtually stall along the South Carolina coast.

It could be late Monday before Bonnie moves offshore, at that point along the N.C. coast.

While meteorologists in Charleston said some minor wind damage is possible, National Hurricane Center meteorologist Stacy Stewart said, “The primary impact from Bonnie is expected to be locally heavy rainfall.”

Charlotte impact

Bands of rain from Bonnie had reached as far inland Saturday evening as eastern Chesterfield County, S.C., about 70 miles southeast of Charlotte.

Palmer of the National Weather Service office in Greer, S.C., said forecasters expect rain to reach the Charlotte region early Sunday and continue during the day.

Palmer said, “ ‘Occasional’ rain is probably a good description” for Sunday’s weather in the Charlotte area.

Earlier Saturday, forecasters said they thought the rain might move out of the Charlotte area by afternoon. But later data indicated precipitation probably will continue through the evening.

That would put Sunday’s running of the race at Charlotte Motor Speedway in jeopardy, possibly forcing a postponement. Either way, forecasters expect drier conditions Monday, with only a 30 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms and high temperatures in the mid 80s.

Life goes on

While authorities cautioned people to stay out of the water, many activities continued as usual Saturday along the beaches, where tens of thousands of visitors were expected for the Memorial Day weekend.

Rain bands from Bonnie reached the Myrtle Beach’s Grand Strand area about midday, although little rain fell north of the state line.

That area is host to Atlantic City Bikefest and Memorial Day-related events through Monday. Myrtle Beach spokesman Mark Kruea told the Sun News that “a little rain never hurt” and he expects activities to go on as usual.

Bikefest is bringing hundreds of motorcyclists to the Grand Strand, and S.C. Highway Patrol Cpl. Sonny Collins told the Sun News that he is worried about the combination of heavy rain and motorcycle traffic.

“With inclement weather, your chances of being involved in a crash are certainly higher,” Collins said. “You want to make sure you slow down – motorcycles, especially.”

Farther to the north, along the North Carolina coast, the weather remained dry for much of Saturday. An employee at the Wrightsville Beach pier said late Saturday afternoon that it was “a typically busy holiday weekend.”

Potential threats

In addition to the heavy rain, forecasters said dangerous rip currents and pounding surf could be big problems.

Meteorologist Michael Caropolo of the National Weather Service’s Wilmington office said beachgoers will have to deal with dangerous rip currents and even a chance of waterspouts as the system nears.

Meteorologists at all three National Weather Service offices serving the Carolinas coast – Morehead City, Wilmington and Charleston – said they expect moderate to severe rip current problems through Sunday, and possibly into Monday.

Authorities on Tybee Island near Charleston told the National Weather Service that they had detected what was termed “numerous rip currents” late Saturday morning. Weather Service offices in Wilmington and Charleston warned people to stay out of the water.

And Bonnie’s impact was felt as far south as north Florida, with authorities saying they had to rescue a 24-year-old man from the surf near Jacksonville.

A small storm surge also is possible, Caropolo said. “About a 1- to 2-foot storm surge above ground level may be possible across the coastal counties through Monday,” Caropolo said. “Minor to moderate beach erosion can be expected through Monday as well.”

Forecasters said that with top sustained winds of 40 mph, the tropical storm is not expected to cause widespread damage.

Emily Timte, of the National Weather Service office in Charleston, said the most likely area for any wind damage would be in the Charleston metro area, saying “winds of this magnitude may bring down a few trees and power lines.”

But the Charleston County Emergency Management Department had not activated its Emergency Operations Center, as of early Saturday evening.

Rain is expected to be the major issue. From 2 to 4 inches of rain are expected to fall until the storm pushes away early next week.

The Wilmington-Myrtle Beach area is expected to get up to 3 inches, but meteorologists said some locally heavier amounts are possible. Rainfall amounts are expected to be lighter inland, but forecasters said any thunderstorms that develop could drop locally heavy rainfall.

The (Myrtle Beach) Sun News contributed.