North Carolina’s fragile Outer Banks braced Thursday for what the local tourism industry hopes will be a glancing blow from Hurricane Arthur that will disrupt Fourth of July holiday plans, but not cause major damage or upheaval.
Arthur developed from a tropical storm into a Category One hurricane Thursday morning, with maximum sustained winds of 90 mph. The storm is not expected to make landfall, but the National Weather Service warned of heavy rains, coastal flooding, high winds and a storm surge of two to four feet.
Sustained winds will likely exceed 96 mph at the height of the storm early Friday morning and become a Category Two hurricane, forecasters said. Arthur is the first named storm of the current hurricane season, and the first hurricane to hit the Outer Banks since Hurricane Irene in August 2011.
Arthur has disrupted July Fourth plans for an estimated 250,000 people on the 200-mile string of islands, including a year-round population of more than 40,000. A mandatory evacuation was ordered for low-lying Hatteras Island, a thin ribbon of sand connected to the mainland by a bridge built on shifting sands.
A voluntary evacuation was in effect for Ocracoke Island, connected to the mainland by two ferries that cease operation during high winds. States of emergency were declared for four coastal North Carolina counties.
Further north, in tourist beach towns like Nags Head and Kill Devil Hills, most people were planning to stay put and resume their holiday plans as early as Friday afternoon, when sunshine could return. The quick-moving storm is expected to push off the coast by Friday morning and head out to sea.
State emergency officials said beachgoers could expect to salvage most of the three-day holiday weekend, typically the busiest week of the year on the Outer Banks. But they warned people to stay indoors and prepare for possible flooding, power outages, wind damage and rip tides.
"Don’t put your stupid hat on,’’ North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory warned during a 10 a.m. news conference.
Michael Sprayberry, the state emergency management director, added: "While the current forecast does not indicate Arthur will cause major damage, we are taking this storm very seriously."
Lee Nettles, executive director of the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau, was upbeat Thursday morning.
"The sun is shining and the skies are blue," he said, but added, "Of course, that’ll start breaking down by this evening."
Nettles said most residents and visitors plan to stay put overnight, with the peak of the storm predicted to strike between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. Friday. Because 80% of beach rentals are weekly, he said, most visitors plan to write off Thursday but resume their holidays as early as Friday afternoon.
"We’re telling people to listen to the advisories and stay safe, but we’re not overly concerned,’’ Nettles said.
Four fireworks showed scheduled for Friday were postponed, Nettles said, but are now scheduled for Saturday, Sunday and Monday.
The hurricane was off the South Carolina coast at mid-morning Thursday, about 260 miles southwest of Cape Hatteras, moving north at about 10 mph. The National Weather Service issued a hurricane warning from Surf City, N.C., near Camp Lejeune, north to the Virginia border.
Forecasters predicted two to four inches of rain along the Outer Banks, with up to six inches falling in some areas. One to three inches of rain was forecast for inland areas.
Arthur is expected to bring soaking rain and rough surf along much of the eastern seaboard late Thursday and early Friday. Forecasters warned of possible heavy rain and rip currents for late Thursday off Long Island.
In Boston, the annual Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular was moved up a day to Thursday to avoid wind and rain from Arthur. It was the first time since 1992 that the popular display was rescheduled.
On Hatteras Island, most people were complying with the mandatory evacuation order, said Capt. Kathryn Bryan of the Dare County Sheriff’s Office. The island has a year-round population of about 4,000, but is visited by thousands of tourists and fishermen during the summer.
Traffic was moving smoothly Thursday as cars left the island, with no significant traffic snarls, Bryan said.
Even during more dangerous hurricanes, many year-round island residents ignore evacuation orders and stay home. Bryan said she expected some locals to ride out the storm this time, and said officials don’t force anyone to leave.
"But if they choose to stay, it’s on them," she said. No emergency rescue services will be available during the storm, she said.
McCrory said officials are concerned about Highway 12, a fragile two-lane road that washes out even in minor storms. The road, which runs much of the length of the Outer Banks, was severed and remained flooded for weeks on Hatteras Island after Hurricane Irene.
"You literally may have five to 10 yards of space between water on both sides’’ of the highway, McCrory said.
The governor said officials were planning for a quick recovery Friday. He said he still planned to attend a Fourth of July parade Friday in the coastal town of Southport, south of the Outer Banks.
"We anticipate a beautiful holiday weekend after Hurricane Arthur clears out,’’ he said.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times