Cristobal 1st tropical storm to hit coast

Camera-toting vacationers in North Myrtle Beach hoped for a lightning show as Tropical Storm Cristobal rumbled offshore. On North Carolina's Outer Banks, surfers reveled in choppy waves and fishermen reeled in last catches of wahoo and sailfish as heavy gray clouds billowed up from the south.

Cristobal, the first tropical storm to menace the Southeast seaboard this hurricane season, sent outer bands of intermittent rain lashing the eastern Carolinas late Saturday as forecasters predicted it could dump several inches in some areas of drought-stricken North Carolina.

The storm is forecast to have no effect on weather today in the Charlotte metro region, although a few showers from the system spread inland Saturday to Union and Anson counties.

At 8p.m. Saturday, the center of the storm was about 130 miles east of Charleston and about 185miles southwest of Cape Hatteras. The National Hurricane Center said Cristobal was moving northeast at about 6 mph with maximum sustained winds of about 45 mph and some higher gusts. Some strengthening was forecast overnight, but Cristobal is not expected to reach hurricane strength.

Forecasters say they expect Cristobal's center to remain off the Carolinas coast, which would keep the strongest winds and heaviest rain – which usually are contained in the eastern part of tropical systems – offshore.

But tropical storms warnings remain in effect from near Charleston northward to the N.C.-Virginia line, including Pamlico Sound.

The storm's biggest impact Saturday was felt in the Wilmington area and in Brunswick County, home to some of the Carolinas' most popular beach resorts – Sunset Beach, Ocean Isle and Holden Beach. Wilmington received 21/2 inches of rain Saturday, said Stephen Keebler, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service there. Rainfall of 2 to 4 inches is predicted today farther up the coast, especially on the Outer Banks.

Cristobal's winds were not expected to be a problem, Keebler said. “It's some rain and a little bit of relief for the coastal areas and a lot of excitement, but that's about it,” he said.

The rain bands were weakening as they spun farther inland, providing little relief for parched areas near Interstate 95 in North Carolina, he said.

“Basically the track is running parallel to the coast,” said National Hurricane Center lead forecaster Martin Nelson. “Slow strengthening is forecast for the next day or two.”

At the By The Sea Motel in North Myrtle Beach, S.C., out-of-state visitors photographed outer storm bands as Cristobal churned off the coast, said hotel manager Charlie Peterson. Intermittent light rain fell in the afternoon but that wasn't enough to chase them away.

“They've got their cameras set and they think there is going to be lightning over the water,” he said. Observer staff writer Steve Lyttle and Associated Press Writer Meg Kinnard in Columbia contributed.