The first named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season has prompted a hurricane warning for a wide stretch of the North Carolina coast.
Tropical Storm Arthur is expected to grow into a hurricane by the Fourth of July and hit most harshly at the Outer Banks, a popular tourist spot of thin barrier islands along the shore.
Authorities ordered a mandatory evacuation for visitors to the Outer Banks’ Hatteras Island, while residents were advised to leave. A voluntary evacuation was announced for Ocracoke Island, accessible only by ferry.
Officials, hotel owners and would-be vacationers as far north as New England were also watching forecasts. The storm was enough of a concern that officials in Boston decided to move the annual Boston Pops July 4 concert and fireworks show up by a day because of potential heavy rain on Friday night, and rip tides were a threat as far north as New Jersey.
The Outer Banks will be especially vulnerable, forecasters said. As word of the mandatory evacuation on Hatteras Island spread, a steady stream of cars, trailers and recreational vehicles began rolling north on North Carolina Highway 12, a two-lane road that is the only way to the mainland other than ferries to the south.
Home to the famous Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, the island is just a narrow spit of land. Twice in recent years, storm-driven waves have sliced the highway, rendering it impassable.
Other areas of the Outer Banks were taking a cautious, but still optimistic approach. No evacuations had been ordered for areas north of Hatteras, including the popular town of Kill Devil Hills, which was the site of the Wright brothers’ first controlled, powered plane flights in December 1903.
Tourism officials expect about 250,000 people to visit the Outer Banks and stay in hotels and rental homes for the long holiday weekend. “We want everybody to be safe and prepared, but we are not overly concerned at this point,” said Lee Nettles, the executive director the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau. He noted that forecasters were predicting the storm would move fast and be less severe than others in locals’ memories.
Governor Pat McCrory declared a state of emergency for 25 coastal and adjoining counties and advised residents and visitors to let caution be their guide.
“Don’t put your stupid hat on,” he said, as he urged surfers and swimmers not to get in the water regardless of how good the waves might be.
“Our major goal is to ensure that no lives are lost during this upcoming storm,” including those of emergency workers, Mr McCrory said.
The forecast does not predict a landfall in the US, but officials and travellers north to New England kept an eye on the storm’s projected path. Many areas warned of upcoming rain, wind and potential rip tides.
Arthur is expected to pass well east of New England over the weekend.
The National Hurricane Centre predicted the storm would be off the coast of New England later in the day and eventually make landfall in Canada’s maritime provinces as a tropical storm.