Weather forecasters and local officials were keeping a close eye Wednesday on a poorly organized tropical storm that could move past South Carolina this weekend but likely will get only close enough to stir up the surf.
Tropical Storm Emily, the fifth named storm of the 2011 Atlantic hurricane season, is forecast to be below hurricane strength and hundreds of miles offshore when it moves past South Carolina's coast early Sunday, said Jonathan Lamb, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Charleston.
"At about 2 a.m. on Sunday, the storm will make its closest approach to our area, but it will still be pretty far offshore," Lamb said. "It will be about 200 miles southeast of Hilton Head, and it looks like that is the closest it will get."
Lamb said it is unlikely the area will experience heavy rain or feel effects from the 70 mph winds Emily is forecast to pack by Sunday.
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"Our primary concerns will be high surf, large waves, rip currents and beach erosion," Lamb said.
National Hurricane Center forecasters say the next 48 hours are critical for Emily's development as the storm moves over the rugged terrain in parts of Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
Lamb said the storm could strengthen or change course after its tussle with the mountains this week.
"That type of movement usually disrupts a storm's circulation," Lamb said. "It could easily dissipate entirely, but it's going to be back over some warm water north of the Bahamas, so it could strengthen and even become a hurricane off our coast over the weekend."
To be considered a Category 1 hurricane, a storm must have sustained winds of more than 74 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center.
Paul Rasch, emergency manager coordinator with the Hilton Head Island Fire & Rescue Division, said local officials also are tracking the storm.
"Today is going to be, hopefully, a day that causes some things to get squared away so the models and projections are a little more cast in stone," Rasch said.
Beaufort County emergency management officials urged residents to follow Emily.
"We're monitoring the storm very closely, but it has a lot of challenges ahead of it," said Todd Ferguson, county emergency management director. "This storm gives residents a chance to review their own hurricane plans, make sure where they're going and that they haven't forgotten anything."
Reporter Tom Barton contributed to this report.
Follow reporter Patrick Donohue at twitter.com/ProtectServeBft.