Gabrielle aims at North Carolina coast

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By MIKE BAKER, Associated Press Writer 46 minutes ago

HATTERAS, N.C. - Tropical Storm Gabrielle closed in on North Carolina's Outer Banks on Sunday, packing 50 mph winds and plenty of rain, but not enough of a threat to scare vacationers from the shore and surfers from the beach.

"It's a lot rougher out there, but this what we look forward to every year," said Derek Creekmore, 32, of Chesapeake, Va., as he carried his surfboard into tall, breaking waves near Cape Hatteras. "We plan to stay out here until we get tired."

Gabrielle strengthened slightly — though not to hurricane level — as it moved toward a midday landfall between Cape Lookout and Cape Hatteras. After a brief landfall over state's famous chain of barrier islands and Pamlico Sound, Gabrielle was expected to take a sharp turn back into the Atlantic.

As of 11 a.m., Gabrielle's center was located about 20 miles east-northeast of Cape Lookout and was moving slowly — about 10 mph — to the north. The storm had maximum sustained winds of close to 50 mph, with stronger gusts over a small area close to its center.

People are taking elementary precautions," said Robert Raborn, the dockmaster at Anchorage Marina on Ocracoke Island. "Boats that can be hauled out are being hauled out. Some extra storm lines are being put on. It's not expected to be any worse than the average winter storm."

Forecasters issued a tropical storm warning for the North Carolina coastline north of Surf City through the Outer Banks and to the Virginia border. A tropical storm warning was also issued northward to Cape Charles Light, Va., along the Atlantic Coast, and a watch remains in effect for the area extending to New Point Comfort peninsula, along the Chesapeake Bay.

Officials mostly preached caution as they prepared for Gabrielle to blow through the vacation hotspot. While the National Park Service closed all campgrounds on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore and Gov. Mike Easley put some swift water rescue teams and National Guard units on standby, officials didn't order any evacuations.

"It's going to be a good day to stay inside, if at all possible," said Dorothy Toolan, a spokeswoman for Dare County. "We certainly don't advise people to go into the ocean, because the rip currants are so severe, and we hope by now that people have made their preparations and secured any loose items around their homes."

Austin Lucas, a manager at Howard's Pub on Ocracoke Island, said workers there tied down furniture that was on the roof. But beyond that, he said everyone was just waiting to see when the storm would come.

"We haven't really taken any severe precautions," Lucas said. "Nobody's too concerned about it."

Gabrielle spun into the storm late Friday after wandering in the Atlantic for several days, caught along an old frontal boundary that stalled about midway between the Southeast coast and Bermuda. Forecasters first labeled it a subtropical storm — a hybrid system that takes power from warm ocean waters but also forms from warm and cold fronts colliding — before classifying it a tropical system Saturday.

Forecasters said the storm's greatest danger would likely come from rough seas and rip currents along the shore, which started causing problems Saturday. David Baker, the Ocean Rescue director for the Wrightsville Beach Fire Department about 150 miles south of Nags Head, told The Star-News of Wilmington that lifeguards rescued about a dozen people from the water because of rip currents.

Officials in Dare and Hyde County, which cover most of the Outer Banks, said Sunday they had no reports of any water rescues tied to Gabrielle.

Gabrielle's first showers reached the coastline late Saturday night.

Forecasters said the storm could produce a storm surge of up to 3 feet, with 1 to 3 inches of rain falling in coastal areas and up to 5 inches in isolated spots. Some ocean overwash on N.C. 12 — the main road along the Outer Banks — and beach erosion were also expected.

The rain will be welcome in North Carolina, where all 100 counties are facing drought conditions — 91 in a severe drought or worse. Easley asked Friday that the state's local governments immediately enact voluntary or mandatory water restrictions.

"If there's no damage from tornadoes and high winds and we get a little bit of rain off of this, then the rain would be a good thing to replenish some of the water supplies, streams and reservoirs in the eastern part of the state," said Renee Hoffman, the governor's spokeswoman.

Gabrielle aims at North Carolina coast - Yahoo! News

 

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