JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Tropical Storm Arthur is skimming the Florida coast and is forecast to develop into a hurricane before it heads out to sea over the weekend.
Even though the worst weather will affect mostly the Outer Banks, the storm could still have a dangerous impact on local beaches this holiday weekend.
"It's a weak storm here but it's expected to be hurricane off the Carolina coastline, and we're liable to see a swell coming down from there into northeast Florida," said Al Sandrik, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. "We're probably looking at swells of 4-6 foot range, and that's enough to sweep an unwary swimmer or a small child out to sea very easily."
Meteorologists at the National Weather Service on Jacksonville's Northside said everything from how organized the storm is to wind speeds and where it could make impact are factors that will make a big difference for people in Jacksonville over the next 48 hours.
Sandrik said on a scale of 1-10, the level of concern for Jacksonville-area residents should be about a 2, as long as they're not going into the water.
But even with a minimal threat to the area, the NWS said no one should be complacent when it comes to preparing for Tropical Storm Arthur.
"It's more than just a dry run because of its impacts along the immediate coast," Sandrik said. "And that's especially true as far as wave action and rip currents."
But many residents and tourists in Flagler Beach (pictured) are staying positive.
"We're treating it like Key West," Flagler Beach resident Nancy Beneducci said. "It's here, it's coming and we don't care."
The sunshine will likely draw a lot of people to the beach, which could prove problematic because, as in the Jacksonville area, rip currents are expected to be strong.
News4Jax Chief Meteorologist John Gaughan also warns people to be safe driving Wednesday night and Thursday morning, because he said winds on bridges and at the beach could reach up to 35 mph.
Afternoon showers are likely, and it's expected to be a scorcher. But some Flagler Beach businesses could benefit from the heat.
"I hope it'll make us busy," said Kelly Stevens, co-owner of Galactic Freeze. "The heat brings them to the beach and a lot of storm watchers will bring people down to this area."
Gaughan said Thursday afternoon temperatures could reach at least 100 degrees and feel as hot as 105.
"It makes me kinda nervous, maybe a little hesitant about beach days," said Tara Rowell, who is visiting Flagler Beach for the 4th of July weekend. "But I guess we'll watch it day by day and see what happens."
Along the Jacksonville coast, Sandrick said the 4-6 foot swells and 35 mph wind gusts possible over the next two days are two dangerous conditions that could potentially be deadly if residents aren't prepared.
"Rip currents are one of our biggest killers in northeast Florida and southeast Georgia," Sandrik said. "We had one year where we had hurricane deaths in the United States but no hurricane landfalls simply because they weren't paying attention to rip currents."
Forecasters are especially concerned about water dangers, because of the 4th of July holiday and those who live along the beach.
"As the storm goes by us, we'll probably see high tides right up to the dune line," Sandrik said. "We'll see waves riding up to the dune lines… so if you know folks out there who have catamarans there, beach boxes, that type of thing, they should secure those types of materials."
With the storm moving Northwest at about 5 mph, Arthur isn't expected to hit Northeast Florida but experts said it packs just enough punch to make people re-evaluate their safety plan.
"Take this as a wake-up call," Sandrik said. "It's a weak system as it goes by us and it's gong to be going pretty far offshore. It's not one we're really getting excited about, but it shows we're in the height of the tropical season."
If you don't already have a hurricane survival kit at home, it's a good idea to make it a priority in the next 24 hours just to be safe. Make sure you have enough food, water, a flashlight, portable radio, and important documents ready to go.
Also, those who are medically dependent on electricity should register with emergency management as soon as possible, so personnel can help with transportation and shelter, should the electricity go out.
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