Many enjoy beaches as Tropical Storm Arthur brushes coast

Rip current, erosion worries among few concerns for visitors, residents

ST. AUGUSTINE BEACH, Fla. - As Tropical Storm Arthur churned past the area, bringing a little bit of rain, some stronger surf and winds, many people were thankful the storm didn't come closer and interrupt their vacation plans.

Hundreds of people were out at the St Augustine Beach pier Wednesday night, taking in some music and watching the waves crash.

Locals said a storm brushing this close early in the season makes them realize that they need to start preparing for the possibility of a storm later, and those in Ponte Vedra Beach who have dealt with erosion issues worry a more direct hit could cause major problems.

Ashlynn Higdon said her property in Ponte Vedra Beach still has a lot of land before erosion would become a threat to her house.

"We've lost maybe 6 or 7 feet of sand dune, but no physical damage to the property yet," Higdon said.

But she worries about stronger storms as hurricane season continues.

Higdon said she knows anytime a tropical storm or hurricane comes close, the waves and rip currents make the water a place most people should avoid.

Most people along the St. Augustine Beach pier did just that Wednesday. Those who were brave enough to go into the rougher than normal surf did so knowing they didn't want to go out too far.

"This morning it was really crazy," said Keith McGee, who's vacationing from Atlanta. "We didn't even get in the water because the waves were too big, and with the rip currents, we didn't even get in."

McGee said his group found other things to do on St. Augustine Beach Wednesday, and he hopes by Thursday the surf will be back to normal.

The current was also ripping at Fernandina Beach on Wednesday, and lifeguards had a to rescue a boogie-boarder caught in a rip current. Red flags flying along the beach meant conditions were hazardous. And a small craft advisory was also in effect, warning people in small boats to stay in shore.

"Stay close into shore, don't go further than waist deep, (and) don't let your small children get more than about 3 feet away from you, if at all possible," advised Fernandina Beach lifeguard Corinne Priest. "There are a lot of really bad rips. The storm surge is going to make those rips worse. There's an increased swell; we're experiencing higher waves than we normally would."

Waves were about 3 feet around 5 p.m. off Fernandina Beach, and the swell is expected to be bigger and better Thursday. But it could feel as hot as 105 degrees.

Wednesday was also a scorcher in Fernandina, until dark clouds formed and the rain came down.

"It's nice to get the cloud coverage during the day," said Tyler Mason of Amelia Island. "Those UV rays are real hot during the day, burn you up real bad. I had SPF 50 on and you can tell I got a little red today, but it cools down about 10 degrees when those clouds come out and it rains a little bit."

Wednesday night, the fun was just beginning when the rain stopped in St. Augustine Beach. Hundreds took in a concert under the pavilion, singing and dancing for hours. A little further down, it was football and beach volleyball. With the breeze keeping the temperatures down, it was a great night on the St. Augustine Beach pier.

"It's beautiful weather," said Teresa Scarber, who's on vacation in St. Augustine. "There's a lot of people surfing out here."

Once Arthur moved northward and worries were gone, people were enjoying one of the few signs that a storm was even off the coast: the waves.

"I love it; that's why we come on the Atlantic Coast rather than the Gulf," said Pat Scarber. "You get more of the waves here. It's more like an ocean than a lake."

People at the concert said they'll start gathering what they'll need to deal with a bigger storm as hurricane season moves on, but even if one comes, many of them said they will still be out here having a great time as it gets close.

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