CHARLESTON, S.C. — As one of the year's busiest travel weekends approaches, so does another visitor: Tropical Storm Arthur, expected to grow into a hurricane by the Fourth of July and hit most harshly at North Carolina's Outer Banks, a popular getaway spot of thin barrier islands along the shore.
The first named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season prompted a hurricane warning for a swath of the North Carolina coast and a mandatory evacuation for visitors to the Outer Banks' Hatteras Island. Residents also were advised to leave. A voluntary evacuation was announced for Ocracoke Island, accessible only by ferry.
Tourism officials expected about 250,000 people to visit the Outer Banks for the holiday weekend. As word of the mandatory evacuation on Hatteras spread, a steady stream of cars, trailers and RVs began rolling north on North Carolina Route 12, a two-lane road that is the only road to the mainland.
Officials, hotel owners and 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 4th concert and fireworks show up by a day.
"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.
But flooding concerns remained: Twice in recent years, storm-driven waves have sliced Route 12, rendering it unpassable. On Ocracoke Island, accessible only by ferry, a voluntary evacuation was announced.
Stores saw runs on generators, lanterns and flashlights, but even some workers weren't yet concerned.
"I've been through Irene. I went through Isabelle," said Bill Motley, who works at Ace Hardware in Nags Head has lived on the Outer Banks for 13 years. "I'm not even worried about this one. I'm more worried about my tomato plants. With the wind coming, if we get a 50-mph gust, it will knock over my tomato plants."
At a news conference, Gov. Pat McCrory advised residents, "Don't put your stupid hat on." With concerns of rip tides, 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, McCrory said. He declared a state of emergency for 25 coastal and adjoining counties.
Nancy Janitz, 60, of Jacksonville, N.C., said she was ready, thanks to technology.
"I have my NOAA radio, and I keep tabs on Twitter and Facebook for updates," she said. "I'm as prepared as I can possibly be."
Late Wednesday, the storm was 160 miles southeast of Charleston, S.C., and 380 miles southwest of Cape Hatteras, and moving north at 8 mph with maximum sustained winds of 70 mph. The National Hurricane Center expected it to grow to a Category 1 hurricane with winds of at least 74 mph by today.