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 wide swath of the North Carolina coast and had officials, hotel owners and would-be vacationers as far north as New England carefully watching forecasts.
The Outer Banks will be especially vulnerable, forecasters said. The area's tourism agency expects about 250,000 people to travel there and stay in hotels and rental homes for the long holiday weekend.
This Tuesday satellite image released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), shows the center of Tropical Storm Arthur off the east coast of Florida. With the July Fourth weekend on the horizon, the Atlantic hurricane season's first named storm plodded off Florida's coast early Wednesday, though Tropical Storm Arthur wasn't yet spooking too many in the storm's potential path.
"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 North Carolina Route 12, the main road along the islands, 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, North Carolina, 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."