Hurricane Arthur is forecast to reach Category 2 strength as it nears North Carolina’s Outer Banks, forcing some residents and July Fourth vacationers to evacuate ahead of the Atlantic’s first storm of 2014.
Arthur was 35 miles (56 kilometers) east of Cape Fear, North Carolina, at 7 p.m. local time with top winds of 90 miles per hour, according to the National Hurricane Center. It’s expected to cross or brush the coast as a Category 2 system and its winds may peak at 100 mph, the center said.
“Arthur is going to cause problems tonight along the Carolina coastline and by tomorrow morning it’s going to be close to Cape Hatteras,” said Tom Kines, a meteorologist at AccuWeather Inc. in State College, Pennsylvania. “Once it moves away from Cape Hatteras, the effect of the hurricane on the U.S. will be minimal.”
The system is forecast to block a cold front coming across from the west, touching off thunderstorms, gusting winds and possibly hail along the East Coast and threatening Fourth of July holiday celebrations for cities including New York, Boston and Washington.
The chances of rain for New York will drop after about 3 p.m. tomorrow, said Lauren Nash, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Upton, New York. Macy’s annual fireworks display is scheduled for 9 p.m.
“It is going to clear out west to east,” Nash said. “There is a pretty good chance the rain will be over by 6 to 8 p.m. but I cannot say the clouds will clear out behind it that quickly.”
In Boston, the clash of air masses will bring heavy rain that may cause some urban flooding and hail, said William Babcock, an agency meteorologist in Taunton, Massachusetts.
The city’s annual concert by the Boston Pops and fireworks show was moved up to tonight. Orlando Veras, media relations director for Macy’s, said a decision on that show would be based on “current on-the-scene data.” It has taken place in the rain before, he said.
More than 51.8 million people are in the path of the storms, said the U.S. Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma. Severe thunderstorm and flash flood watches stretch from Maine to Virginia, while hurricane and tropical storm warnings cover the coastline from Virginia to South Carolina. Offshore maritime storm warnings reach from Maine to Florida.
Thunderstorms today prompted the Federal Aviation Administration to delay flights headed into Newark’s Liberty International Airport and New York’s John F. Kennedy and LaGuardia airports.
If Arthur makes landfall in North Carolina, it would be the first hurricane to hit the U.S. since 2012.
While the storm is expected to graze the coast of North Carolina, a “slight westward shift in the track would bring the strongest winds inland,” Daniel Brown, warning coordination meteorologist at the hurricane center, wrote in a forecast analysis.
Officials in Dare County, North Carolina, where at least 250,000 vacationers had been expected to spend their Fourth of July holiday, issued a mandatory evacuation order for Hatteras Island beginning today. Hyde County officials called for a voluntary evacuation of Ocracoke Island, while Beaufort County ordered Richland Township cleared and recommended evacuations for other areas.
Paul Equale, president of the Washington-based public affairs consulting firm Equale & Associates, said he planned to stay put at his beach house in Duck, in Dare County outside the evacuation area, to take advantage of the great weather that usually follows a big storm.
“It’s like a ‘Twilight Zone’ episode because no one’s here except you and that beautiful weather,” he said.
Newsobserver.com posted a picture of a couple that married on North Carolina’s Atlantic Beach this morning, then went for a walk beneath lowering skies.
The hurricane center said Arthur’s storm surge may push the ocean 5 feet (1.5 meters) above normal in some areas while the hurricane drops as much as 7 inches of rain along the coast. In addition, Arthur may touch off isolated tornadoes.
The storm’s track drifted a bit to the west late in the day, so its strongest winds might reach the Outer Banks rather than staying out to sea, the center said.
The area under threat from Arthur is home to 163,274 residential properties that would cost $35.7 billion to rebuild, according to CoreLogic, a property analytics company in Irvine, California.
North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory declared states of emergency throughout coastal areas. The Coast Guard shut the port of Morehead City to inbound traffic.
After Arthur moves across the Outer Banks overnight, it is forecast to speed along the East Coast, bringing tropical storm conditions to Cape Cod in Massachusetts before striking Canada’s Maritime Provinces.
Arthur will be about 100 miles east of Massachusetts tomorrow night, Babcock said. A tropical storm warning has been issued for Cape Cod from Provincetown to Chatham and for Nantucket.
“It will be far enough south that most of the wind will be out over the ocean, but it’s still close enough to bring rain and thunder to New England, and some wind as well, over Cape Cod and the islands,” Babcock said.
The hurricane center predicts Arthur will be a post-tropical storm by the time it reaches Canada. The storm will begin to weaken tomorrow.
“It will still have a good punch left,” Kines said. “They are going to get it much worse than eastern New England by a long shot. The good news is that it will be racing so the really bad weather associated with it won’t last very long.”
Residents in New Brunswick, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island were urged to prepare for the storm, Environment Canada said in a statement. A tropical storm watch has been issued for the length of Nova Scotia’s southern coast.
This is the third time in the past 20 years hurricanes have formed before the Fourth of July, according to Weather 2000 Inc. in New York.
In a typical season, the first storm to get a name forms by July 9 and the first hurricane occurs by Aug. 10, the hurricane center in Miami said. The six-month Atlantic storm season runs from June 1 through Nov. 30, with the statistical peak Sept. 10 and the most activity from mid-August to mid-October.
For the U.S. East Coast, the passage of Arthur will break the heat and humidity and lead to clearing skies, Kines said.
“Tomorrow, right along the coast, is going to be the worst of the three days of the holiday weekend,” Kines said. “Saturday and Sunday should be good days weather-wise from Boston to D.C. People are going to notice the difference, it will be like a breath of fresh air.”