NORFOLK, Va. — Arthur was upgraded to a Category 2 hurricane late Thursday as it began its assault on North Carolina's barrier islands.
At 9 p.m. ET the National Hurricane Center in Miami reported that Arthur was located about 55 miles east-northeast of Cape Fear, N.C., with sustained winds of 100 mph. It was moving north-northeast at 15 mph.
The big question is how much beach erosion, downed power lines and wrecked holiday weekends will be left in its wake.
"I plan to sit on the beach as long as the sun is here," then head out for a seafood dinner, said Sean Fitzgerald, 44, of Fairfax, Va., who said he saw no reason to disrupt his family's vacation at Kill Devil Hills, N.C., north of Hatteras Island in the Outer Banks.
That area was not under an evacuation order though it was part of the hurricane warning area from Surf City, N.C., about 35 miles northeast of Wilmington, N.C., northward to the North Carolina-Virginia border. Rainfall of 2 to 4 inches is expected with some areas getting as much as 6 inches in a brief time.
Meghan Sawyer of Logan's Ice Cream in Kill Devil Hills worries her customers may not venture out if the weather stays rainy.
"A lot of businesses close down here during the winter. So we do depend on a huge influx of people coming down here for the Fourth of July," said Amory Jones of Kitty Hawk Kites, which offers hang gliding, kiteboarding, parasailing, stand-up paddleboarding and wakeboarding.
A mandatory evacuation of Hatteras Island, the easternmost strip of land in the Outer Banks, began at 5 a.m. ET Thursday, about the time the National Hurricane Center upgraded Tropical Storm Arthur to hurricane status. Now no one is allowed on the island.
"We were just saying we were really, really lucky this year that the weather was so great, and then this," said Nichole Specht, 27, who ended a two-week vacation with her fiance, Ryan Witman, 28. They left Hatteras Island at 3:30 a.m. to beat the traffic.
Forecasters expect Arthur to whip past the Outer Banks — a 200-mile string of narrow barrier islands with about 57,000 permanent residents — by early Friday, grazing the area around Cape Hatteras Lighthouse and bringing rain, heavy winds, storm surge and dangerous rip tides.
Hurricane Arthur is picking up speed — it's now moving at about 15 mph, up from 7 mph when it first formed — and should be off the coast of New England late Friday, making landfall in Canada's maritime provinces as a tropical storm. The National Hurricane Center issued a tropical storm warning Thursday for Nantucket Island and Cape Cod, and its counterpart in Canada issued a tropical storm watch for Nova Scotia, where Arthur is expected to arrive midday Saturday as a tropical storm.
Thursday evening, the storm was about 35 miles south of Cape Fear, the island that juts into the Atlantic south of Wilmington. Hurricane-force winds of 90 mph extended 35 miles from the center, and tropical storm force winds extended 150 mph from the eye; at least one tornado was sighted in the area.
Ferry service to Ocracoke Island, which sits to the west of Hatteras Island about 25 miles from the mouth of the Pamlico River, shut down at 5 p.m. Thursday until after the storm. The island, which has a permanent population of about 950 people, is accessible only by boat.
Coast Guard officials warned boaters to stay off the water in North Carolina and southeastern Virginia until Saturday because any rescue operations also would put Coast Guard crews at risk.
Before the storm, tourism officials had expected 250,000 people to travel to the Outer Banks for the holiday weekend. North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory warned people not to risk their safety by trying to salvage their picnics, barbecues and pre-paid beach cottage vacations.
"Don't put your stupid hat on," McCrory said. But "we anticipate a beautiful holiday weekend once Hurricane Arthur clears out."
The governor has both North Carolina National Guard soldiers and State Highway Patrol troopers on standby if needed to transport supplies and help with traffic.
At Wrightsville Beach east of Wilmington, Warren Lee, Hanover County's emergency management director, had a beach full of vacationers early Thursday afternoon and the strong possibility of rip currents that could carry swimmers out to sea.
"It's a peak time of the year for visitors to be on our coast," he said. "We want to get word out to folks that this is a potentially dangerous storm. Although it's not going to make a direct impact here, we're still going to feel the effects of it."
Outer Banks residents and out-of-town visitors who failed to evacuate ahead of the hurricane's expected arrival should prepare for possibly getting stuck for several days without food, water or power, forecaster Stacy Stewart of the National Hurricane Center said Thursday.
"We want the public to take this system very seriously," he said.
Hurricane warning sign
A sign warns travelers July 3, 2014, as recreational vehicles arrive in Nags Head, N.C., after departing Hatteras Island.(Photo: Gerry Broome, AP)
Arthur is expected to bring flooding on North Carolina 12. The two-lane highway runs along much of the Outer Banks, and twice in recent years, storm-driven waves have rendered the road impassable.
The Outer Banks could get as much as 4 feet of storm surge if Arthur strikes at high tide, forecasters said. Southeastern Virginia could get a 2-foot storm surge.
Mike Rabe of Virginia Beach, Va, planned to stay in his Outer Banks beach home the entire weekend. He and his wife, Jan, arrived Wednesday and set to work stowing lawn furniture and anything else that could be tossed about. He said he was spending Thursday helping a friend and longtime resident get his water sports shop and campground ready for bad weather.
"I'm going to help him prepare and then I'm going to ride it out," said Rabe, 53.
The holiday weekend shouldn't be a complete loss along much of the Atlantic Coast. Forecasters said the storm will move through quickly with the worst of the weather near Cape Hatteras about dawn Friday. Then skies are expected to clear.
In Boston, the annual July 4th Boston Pops concert and fireworks display was advanced by a day to Thursday evening because of the threat of severe weather Friday from the storm. Avon, N.C. on Hatteras Island pushed its July 4th celebration to Monday night.
If Arthur makes landfall Friday, it would be the first hurricane to do so on Independence Day, according to National Hurricane Center research that goes back to the 1850s.
The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale categorizes storms based on their sustained wind speed and estimates property damage. Hurricanes reaching Category 3 or higher are considered major storms because of their potential for significant loss of life and property damage.
• Category 1. 74 to 95 mph. Very dangerous winds will produce some damage. Well-constructed frame homes could have damage to roof, shingles, vinyl siding and gutters. Large branches of trees will snap and shallowly rooted trees may be toppled. Extensive damage to power lines and poles likely will result in power outages that could last a few to several days.
• Category 2. 96 to 110 mph. Extremely dangerous winds will cause extensive damage. Well-constructed frame homes could sustain major roof and siding damage. Many shallowly rooted trees will be snapped or uprooted and block roads. Near-total power loss is expected with outages that could last several days to weeks.
• Category 3. 111 to 129 mph. Devastating damage will occur. Well-built framed homes may incur major damage or removal of roof decking and gable ends. Many trees will be snapped or uprooted. Electricity and water will be unavailable for several days to weeks afterward.
• Category 4. 130 to 156 mph. Catastrophic damage will occur. Well-built framed homes can sustain severe damage with loss of most of the roof structure and some exterior walls. Most trees will be snapped or uprooted and power poles downed. Fallen trees and power poles will isolate residential areas. Power outages will last weeks to possibly months. Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months.
• Category 5. 157 mph and higher. Catastrophic damage will occur. A high percentage of framed homes will be destroyed with total roof failure and wall collapse. Fallen trees and power poles will isolate residential areas. Power outages will last for weeks to possibly months. Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months.
Source: National Hurricane Center