Tropical weather expected to drench North Carolina coast

National Hurricane Center tracking 3 tropical systems


RODANTHE, N.C. – North Carolina's Outer Banks will likely be drenched as a tropical weather system blows by with up to 5 inches of heavy rain. But the depression had yet to reach tropical storm strength as it curved out to sea Wednesday.

Elsewhere, a powerful hurricane threatened to pass "dangerously close" to Hawaii, and a tropical storm warning was issued for parts of Florida's Gulf Coast because of a tropical depression in the Gulf of Mexico.

In the Atlantic, the tropical depression began moving away from North Carolina's coast Tuesday night but National Weather Service meteorologist Tom Lonka said the Outer Banks will be lashed with rain and wind through Wednesday.

"There'll be rain showers coming on shore, rain bands and gusty winds," he said by phone Tuesday.

Business owners on North Carolina's Ocracoke and Hatteras Islands say they've experienced a drop in foot traffic. But by late Tuesday, many tourists had decided to stay and brave the impending storm.

"Well, the sun has been shining and we've been hearing about this storm for two days," Jennifer Bange, 43, of Painted Post, New York, said Tuesday afternoon. She was about to drive onto the ferry from Hatteras Island to Ocracoke, determined to show her two sons the small island.

The storm was centered about 75 miles (120 kilometers) east-southeast of Cape Hatteras on Wednesday morning.

Coastal Carteret County emergency officials issued an advisory Tuesday saying wind problems were likely to be "mostly minor," but advised residents in case trees topple or lightweight objects are blown around.

Crowds had thinned on Outer Banks' beaches ahead of the storms. On Tuesday morning, a slow stream of dozens of cars from places including Maryland, New York and Ohio headed north toward a bridge to the mainland - but other vacationers stayed and some surfers dove in for taller waves.

Some beaches were all but empty. Near Rodanthe, a couple and their 11-year-old son had the shore to themselves for a morning stroll. Joe and Kelley Walker of Markham, Virginia, said their family plans to wait out the rain with movies or card games.

"We're not worried about the storm so much unless they say there's something to worry about," Joe Walker said.

In nearby Frisco, whipped-up waves attracted out-of-town surfers. A break in the rain before more showers were expected also brought families out at midday.

Steven Kavika, a 58-year-old surf instructor, said he relished the opportunity.

"I saw it coming in last week and kind of made a prediction of what day would be best to come down," said Kavika, who drove down with a friend from Virginia Beach, Virginia.

At the same time, a tropical depression in the Gulf of Mexico prompted the U.S. National Hurricane Center to issue a tropical storm warning and a hurricane watch for areas of Florida's Gulf coast. The tropical storm warning, issued Wednesday morning, covers an area from Anclote River to the Walton County-Bay County line.

Forecasters say they expect that system to turn to the northeast toward Florida and become a tropical storm sometime Wednesday. That depression was about 425 miles (680 kilometers) southwest of Tampa, Florida, early Wednesday and was moving north near 2 mph (4 kph).

Lonka, of the National Weather Service, said the storm in the Gulf was forecast to move across northern Florida later this week toward the Atlantic. But he said it's likely to stay south of North Carolina. Still, he cautioned its path was difficult to predict days in advance.

At Ride The Wind Surf Shop on Ocracoke Island, owner Bob Chestnut said he canceled all of his kayak tours and other rentals for Tuesday because he was concerned about the wind. Foot traffic was sparse.

"The amount of day-trippers has been pretty minimal because I think people were worried they'd get down here and not be able to get back," he said by phone, referring to people who take a ferry to the island on the southern stretch of the Outer Banks.

Byron Miller, manager of The Ocracoke Harbor Inn, said one person canceled because of the forecast, and business is a little slower than usual.

Thousands of miles away, residents of Hawaii's Big Island were bracing for what could be the first Pacific hurricane to make landfall in that state in decades.

Forecasters said Hurricane Madeline weakened to a Category 1 storm Tuesday night. The forecaster said any shift in the storm's forecast track could mean it would hit land.

Meteorologist Chevy Chevalier said the last hurricane to make landfall in Hawaii was Hurricane Iniki in 1992, which hit Kauai Island.

A second Pacific hurricane called Lester is still far from Hawaii.