Despite forecasts indicating there is little chance Beaufort County will bear the brunt of Hurricane Earl, city of Beaufort officials refused to be caught flat-footed Tuesday as the powerful storm churned toward the East Coast.
For more than an hour, a handful of city officials met at City Hall to discuss storm cleanup, how to protect solar panels atop the city's new parking kiosksand other facets of their hurricane plan.
Earl grew into a Category 4 storm Monday off the coast of Puerto Rico but is expected to stay about 400 miles from Beaufort when it roars past the Lowcountry early Thursday, said Ryan Aylward, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Charleston.
Residents can expect 8-foot seas, a greater risk of rip currents and winds between 15 and 20 mph, Aylward said.
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The storm, which was packing winds as strong as 135 mph Tuesday, could brush North Carolina on Friday before moving up the East Coast over the weekend, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
Mack Cook, city comptroller, said he hopes that forecast holds.
"My sincere hope is that by Saturday afternoon, this meeting will have been totally frivolous," Cook said. "This is still a potential tropical event, and that's not to be taken lightly."
Other area agencies also are keeping a close eye on Earl, including Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, the Town of Hilton Head Island and Beaufort County.
Maj. William Pelletier, Parris Island spokesman, said depot officials were monitoring the storm and were prepared "to take appropriate action based on the storm's path and strength."
If an evacuation of Parris Island was ordered, recruits would be bused to other bases to continue their training inland, according to depot officials.
Air station officials have made no plans to evacuate or fly the base's F-18 Hornets inland, said Gunnery Sgt. Chad McMeen, air station spokesman.
Beaufort County officials say they will continue to monitor Earl and a second tropical storm, Fiona, which is expected to pass the South Carolina coast sometime Sunday, emergency management director Todd Ferguson said Tuesday.
Though Fiona reached tropical-storm strength with 40 mph winds Monday, neither storm is expected to produce much rain or strong winds, Ferguson said.
"We've been watching them for the past six days, and we're fairly confident with the forecast," he said. "At this point, there's not too much to be concerned about -- both storms are staying far enough off the coast that they're not going to cause problems."