Hilton Head officials keep an eye on Hurricane Earl -- and what might come next

Emergency management officials in southern Beaufort County kept an eye Hurricane Earl's progress across the Atlantic on Tuesday, even as it appeared the storm would have little impact on the state's coastline.

Earl grew into a Category 4 storm Monday off the coast of Puerto Rico, but is expected to stay about 400 miles from Beaufort County when it roars past the Lowcountry early Thursday, said Ryan Aylward, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Charleston.

For the past week, Hilton Head Island officials have been in contact with state and county emergency preparedness officials monitoring the storm, said Paul Rasch, emergency management coordinator for the Town of Hilton Head.

"We begin the monitoring process when it's still a little disturbance off the coast of Africa," Rasch said. "If it was a storm that was projected to make landfall, by now, we'd be well through our preparations. At this point, it looks like the track for Earl will keep it offshore."

Local residents can expect 8-foot seas, an increased chance of rip currents and winds between 15 and 20 mph, Aylward said.

The storm, which was packing winds Tuesday up to 135 mph, could brush North Carolina on Friday before moving up the East Coast over the weekend, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

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."

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.

For more than an hour, a handful of city officials met at City Hall to discuss storm cleanup, what to do with the city's new parking kiosks and other facets of their hurricane plan.

Mack Cook, city comptroller, said he hopes the forecast holds true.

"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."