Update: The National Hurricane Center has upgraded Hurricane Arthur to a Category 2 hurricane with sustained winds of 100 mph.
The National Weather Service has issued a tornado watch until 8 a.m. for Camden, Chowan, Currituck, Pasquotank and Perquimans counties.
Hurricane Arthur gained strength in the Atlantic today and threatened to strike near the North Carolina coast on Independence Day, prompting thousands of vacationers and residents to leave parts of the state’s popular but flood-prone Outer Banks.
Hurricane Arthur continues to strengthen and is still expected to become a Category 2 hurricane when it passes over or near the North Carolina coast overnight.
The 5 p.m. advisory by the National Hurricane Center said the storm is centered about 185 miles southwest of Cape Hatteras with maximum sustained winds at 90 mph and was moving north-northeast at 13 mph.
A hurricane warning remains in effect for Pasquotank, Camden and Currituck counties, and Tropical Storm warnings in effect for Chowan and Perquimans counties.
Officials also noted another westward shift in the track of Arthur this afternoon, which could bring the storm slightly farther inland and stronger winds along the Outer Banks.
Showers and thunderstorms from Arthur are expected here mainly after 11 tonight, some of which could produce heavy rainfall, according to the National Weather Service.
Hurricane conditions are possible through the night into Friday morning. Showers are expected mainly before 2 p.m. Friday as the storm pulls away from the region.
Friday evening will be mostly clear and a northwest wind of 7 to 9 mph. Saturday will be sunny with a high near 83 and north wind of 9 to 11 mph.
The hurricane warning means winds of 74 mph or more are possible. A tropical storm warning for winds in excess of 39 mph are possible.
A flash flood watch remains in effect for southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina
Local officials said the main concern continues to be about the potential for heavy rainfall and minor flooding.
In Currituck, officials reminded residents that there are no pre-storm shelters set up in the county.
Residents with generators were advised to make sure they are properly fueled and not to operate them inside enclosed areas such as garages. They also were advised to have emergency supplies ready in case they lose power. Outages can be reported to Dominion Power at 1-866-DOM-HELP.
With hurricane-force winds expected in some areas, residents were further advised to secure any loose items outside such as lawn furniture.
Residents were also warned not to attempt to drive during periods of heavy wind or rain.
Meanwhile, area residents flocked to grocery and convenience stores in advance of Arthur Friday afternoon.
Walmart spokeswoman Betsy Harden said that, at both the Elizabeth City store and the store at Kitty Hawk, business has been busy, but steady.
Harden said that, given the notice of such stormy weather, customers were purchasing items such as batteries and also were stocking up on supplies of water.
Harden said, however, that because this is in advance of the Fourth of July, both stores have experienced good sales of holiday-related items, including barbecue foods, watermelons and sun tan lotion.
"So, it sounds like folks are still optimistic that they may be able to get in a good holiday weekend here as well," she said.
Harden said that there are no plans to close the Kitty Hawk store because of Arthur and that there have been no issues with stores running out of items.
She noted that Walmart is such a big operation that the Bentonville, Ark.-based corporation has a meteorologist and that the meteorologist and corporate officials track major storms from the home office.
"So, we are really well-situated," she said. "We get our trucks out on the road and get a lot of merchandise out to those stores that may be impacted by the weather."
Locally, Charles Diliello, manager of the Comfort Inn, said that people up north intending to vacation on the Outer Banks for the holiday had withdrawn room reservations because of Arthur.
Diliello said that the situation quickly turned for the better because vacationers who have been at the Outer Banks, along with evacuees from Hatteras, are now staying at the hotel.
Diliello said Thursday that only 10 of the hotel's 79 rooms remained vacant and that he believes those 10 will be booked quite quickly.
Of the 69 rooms the Comfort Inn has booked, Diliello said he believed probably approximately 20 of them were filled by guests fleeing the Outer Banks or deciding to move inland.
"The people from the north cancelled and the ones coming from the south booked them," he said.
In Hertford, the Food Lion store was open and doing a brisk business.
Meanwhile, as Arthur approached North Carolina earlier this afternoon, it was prompting many residents to follow advisories and orders to evacuate.
Nichole Specht, 27, and Ryan Witman, 28, had pre-loaded their Honda CRV and left Hatteras Island at 3:30 a.m. Thursday, beating the expected traffic jam. The island was under an evacuation order, with no traffic allowed in. Officials asked an estimated 35,000 residents and travelers to leave through North Carolina Highway 12, the only road on and off Hatteras.
Specht and Witman found the road wide open for their return home to Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Specht said her parents left their rental later, at 5 a.m., and also found clear sailing.
“We were just saying we were really, really lucky this year that the weather was so great, and then this,” Specht said as she ended a two-week vacation that included scouting sites for the couple’s wedding next year.
Before the storm hit, tourism officials had expected 250,000 people to travel to the Outer Banks for the holiday weekend. Gov. Pat McCrory sought to strike a balance between a stern warning to vacationers and optimism that part of the busy weekend could be salvaged.
But the next day, even as the storm gathered strength, he said: “Of course, this holiday weekend, the July 4th weekend, is one of the biggest weekends for coastal tourism in the state, and we anticipate a beautiful weekend after the Tropical Storm Arthur or the Hurricane Arthur is out of North Carolina.”
Some visitors stayed put, hopeful the fast-moving storm would follow predictions to pass through by Friday afternoon. About 20 miles north of the only bridge off Hatteras, Sean Fitzgerald and his 5-year-old son, Cade, enjoyed a sunny morning lounging in beach chairs in the town of Kill Devil Hills.
The sand was dotted with tourists. A handful of surfers took to the water. Like all areas north of Oregon Inlet, Kill Devils Hills wasn’t under an evacuation. Fitzgerald said he saw no need to disrupt his family’s vacation.
“I plan to sit on the beach as long as the sun is here,” then head out for a seafood dinner, said Fitzgerald, 44, of Fairfax, Virginia.
Those who don’t evacuate the islands should prepare for possibly getting stuck for several days without food, water or power, National Hurricane Center forecaster Stacy Stewart said Thursday.
“We want the public to take this system very seriously, go ahead and start their preparations because time is beginning to run out,” he said.
Arthur, the first named storm of the Atlantic season, prompted a hurricane warning for much of the North Carolina coast. Tropical storm warnings were in effect for coastal areas in South Carolina and Virginia. On the Outer Banks’ Ocracoke Island, accessible only by ferry, a voluntary evacuation was underway. Officials said ferry service would end at 5 p.m.
Before sunset Wednesday on Highway 12, a long line of cars, trailers and recreational vehicles formed a steady stream of traffic. The road has been sliced apart twice in recent years as storms cut temporary channels from the ocean to the sound. N.C. 12 is easily blocked by sand and water.
Officials called the evacuation for Hatteras Island residents and visitors mandatory, but some residents were likely to stay, as in past storms.
Mike Rabe of Virginia Beach, Virginia, planned to remain in his Outer Banks beach home the entire weekend. He and his wife, Jan, stowed lawn furniture and anything else that could be tossed about by winds, then planned to help a neighbor.
“I’m going to ride it out,” Rabe, 53, said.
The holiday weekend was not expected to be a complete loss on the Outer Banks. Forecasters said the storm would move through quickly with the worst of the weather near Cape Hatteras about dawn Friday. Then it was expected to clear. The National Hurricane Center predicted Arthur would start to weaken Friday night.
Farther north, the annual Boston Pops Fourth of July concert and fireworks show was moved up a day because of potential heavy rain ahead of Hurricane Arthur. Organizers and public safety officials said the celebration was rescheduled for Thursday, which appeared to be the best of two potential bad weather days. Other cities along the East Coast warned of weather condition and potentially life-threatening rip currents.
Late Thursday morning, Arthur was about 260 miles (415 kilometers) southwest of Cape Hatteras and moving north around 14 mph (22 kph) with maximum sustained winds of 90 mph (150 kph).
If Arthur makes landfall in the U.S. on Friday, it would be the first hurricane to do so on July Fourth, according to National Hurricane Center research that goes back to the 1850s.
Perquimans bracing for storm
Perquimans County was bracing for the storm to hit sometime about 1 a.m. Friday and clear out by 7 a.m. Friday. Just how hard remains to be determined.
“The tracking on this one is a lot more shakey that I’ve seen in the past,” said Jarvis Winslow, Perquimans County’s emergency management director.
Winslow just got off the phone about 1:30 p.m. with the National Weather Service. It was predicting gusts of 50 mph east of Elizabeth City and 35 miles per hour in Chowan County.
“Perquimans should be somewhere in the middle, 40 to 45 miles per hour for gusts,” said Perquimans County Manager Frank Heath.
The 2 p.m. update showed the storm had jogged slightly more to the east and out to sea. It had been tracking inland and the eye is still predicted to pass west of Hatteras Island and into the Pamlico Sound. The speed had picked up to 13 mph.
Once the storm passes, Perquimans officials plan to venture out and check for any damage.
“I live in Durant’s Neck which juts out there about as far as anywhere, so I should be able to gauge what it’s like,” Heath said.
NC officials: Get where you’re going
RALEIGH — North Carolina officials are urging residents and visitors to get where they’re going now — before Hurricane Arthur hits the coast.
Gov. Pat McCrory and other officials reminded residents today to have emergency kits and plans ready for the storm, which is expected to whip near the Outer Banks on Friday. Rain, heavy winds, storm surge and dangerous rip tides are expected.
State Transportation Secretary Tony Tata said after the storm passes, the state will have to get sonar readings from the Bonner Bridge before N.C. 12 can reopen on Hatteras Island.
Officials also say the beaches would be beautiful for the July 4th weekend once Arthur moves on. McCrory said he hopes to be in coastal Southport on Friday afternoon.
Meanwhile, New Hanover County declared a state of emergency.
NC shutting down Ocracoke ferry
MANNS HARBOR — Ocracoke Island soon will be inaccessible as state officials plan to shut down ferry service to prepare for Hurricane Arthur.
Officials with the North Carolina Ferry Division said in a news release the ferry runs between Hatteras and Ocracoke islands will end at 5 p.m. today. Ferry Division Director Ed Goodwin says crews need to secure the boats and put them in a safe location.
The ferry runs between Ocracoke and Swan Quarter and Ocracoke and Cedar Island will end at 4 p.m. today. Those routes take people to the mainland from Ocracoke, which is accessible only by ferry.
The National Hurricane Center forecast says Arthur should reach Category 2 strength with winds of at least 96 mph before its landfall or closest approach to the coast early Friday.
Safety and Preparedness Tips
From the Federal Emergency Management Agency
Residents and visitors in potentially affected areas should be familiar with evacuation routes, have a communications plan, keep a battery-powered radio handy and have a plan for their pets. Individuals should visit ready.gov or listo.gov to learn these and other preparedness tips for tropical storms.
Know your evacuation zone and be sure to follow the direction of state, tribal and local officials if an evacuation is ordered for your area.
Storm surge is often the greatest threat to life and property from a hurricane. It poses a significant threat for drowning and can occur before,
During, or after the center of a storm passes through an area. Storm surge can sometimes cut off evacuation routes, so do not delay leaving if an evacuation is ordered for your area.
Driving through a flooded area can be extremely hazardous and almost half of all flash flood deaths happen in vehicles. When in your car, look out for flooding in low lying areas, at bridges and at highway dips. As little as six inches of water may cause you to lose control of your vehicle.
If you encounter flood waters, remember – turn around, don’t drown.
Hurricanes have the potential for tornado formation. If you are under a tornado warning, seek shelter immediately in the center of a small interior room (closet, interior hallway) on the lowest level of a sturdy building. Put as many walls as possible between you and the outside.
Get to know the terms that are used to identify severe weather and discuss with your family what to do if a watch or warning is issued.
For a Hurricane:
• A Hurricane Watch is issued when a tropical cyclone containing winds of at least 74 MPH poses a possible threat, generally within 48 hours.
• A Hurricane Warning is issued when sustained winds of 74 MPH or higher associated with a tropical cyclone are expected in 36 hours or less. • A hurricane warning can remain in effect when dangerously high water or a combination of dangerously high water and exceptionally high waves continue, even though winds may be less than hurricane force.
For a Tropical Storm:
• A Tropical Storm Watch is issued when tropical cyclone containing winds of at least 39 MPH or higher poses a possible threat, generally within 48 hours.
• A Tropical Storm Warning is issued when sustained winds of 39 MPH or higher associated with a tropical cyclone are expected in 36 hours or less.
For coastal flooding:
• A Coastal Flood Advisory is issued when minor or nuisance coastal flooding is occurring or imminent.
• A Coastal Flood Watch is issued when moderate to major coastal flooding is possible.
• A Coastal Flood Warning is issued when moderate to major coastal flooding is occurring or imminent.
More safety tips on hurricanes and tropical storms can be found at ready.gov/hurricanes.