COLUMBIA, SC — It hardly feels like a hurricane, but Arthur is punching South Carolina beaches with big waves and steady rain.
The system finally hit hurricane status of 75 mph early Thursday and quickly intensified to 90 mph by the 11 a.m. update as it moved parallel to the S.C. coast, about 100 miles east of Charleston, according to the National Hurricane Center. But the hurricane-strength winds are tight around the center and the heaviest rains are to the east of the center.
On South Carolina beaches, it’s a day only experienced surfers and people who want to watch them will enjoy. Forecasters expect 1-2 inches of rain during the day, with waves in the 4-8 foot range and winds in the 25-35 mph range. Web cams from beach communities show surfers enjoying the rare big waves.
Based on radar estimates, less than half an inch of rain fell in the morning in most areas from Edisto Beach to North Myrtle Beach. The notable exception was northern Charleston and southern Georgetown counties, where a heavy band of showers dumped about 1.5 inches around Bulls Bay.
Top winds on the beaches have been in the 15-25 mph range, but the Edisto buoy 40 miles southeast of the Charleston coast registered a 60 mph wind gust, with winds consistently above 40 mph through the morning.
Emergency officials have warned beach-goers not to swim in the high surf, which is conducive to life-threatening rip currents.
Arthur’s maximum winds are expected to strengthen to 85-90 mph during the day as it heads to North Carolina’s hurricane-prone Outer Banks. If the current projections hold, the center of the storm will pass to the east of those beaches, but strong winds, storm surge and heavy rain will make for a tough night and early Fourth of July.
As for South Carolina’s beaches, the Fourth of July forecast for the Lowcountry is mostly sunny, a high of 90 and light winds.
Arthur still might wreck some Fourth of July celebrations along the Outer Banks of North Carolina, but the main threats to people along the South Carolina’s coast should come Thursday and be related to people playing in the waves and currents.
The system intensified slowly throughout the day and was expected to hit hurricane strength Wednesday night, according to the National Hurricane Center. A tropical storm warning was posted Wednesday afternoon for Georgetown and Horry counties, meaning winds of 39 mph or stronger were expected Thursday.
But Arthur’s path is expected to be far enough offshore of South Carolina to create few problems in the Palmetto State. On Wednesday, the S.C. Emergency Management Division, whose job includes raising alarm when conditions warrant caution, Tweeted: “No need to change your #SC beach plans, just watch out for #Arthur rip currents.”
Waves of 6-8 feet are expected along the South Carolina coast as the storm parallels the coastline Thursday. Those conditions often are accompanied by rip currents, which can pull swimmers out into deep water quickly. Swimmers caught in rips should try to swim parallel to the shore to get out of the current, then swim back to shore. Better yet, stay out of the water when rip currents are likely.
As for the other potential threats from Arthur, the heaviest rainfall is expected to remain to the east of the center, well out over the Atlantic. Rainfall of an inch or less is forecast for Myrtle Beach. And while the National Hurricane Center issued a tropical storm warning, the National Weather Service’s Myrtle Beach forecast indicates sustained winds are likely to be 30-35 mph on the beaches on Thursday.
There is a slight chance of thunderstorms (20 percent) impacting Fourth of July festivities along the coast on Friday night, but that’s about typical for summer nights in South Carolina.
The National Hurricane Center expects the system to strengthen to an 85-mph hurricane by midday Friday. And while most computer models take the center of the storm to the east of the Outer Banks, it is expected to come close enough to make the Fourth of July anything but festive.