Tropical Storm Cristobal Rumbles off the Carolinas

July 21, 2008

Tropical Storm Cristobal, the first tropical storm to menace the Southeast seaboard this hurricane season, sent outer bands of intermittent rain lashing the eastern Carolinas July 19 as forecasters predicted it could dump several inches in some areas of drought-stricken North Carolina.

At 2 a.m. EDT, the center of the storm was about 35 miles southeast of Cape Fear, N.C., and about 150 miles southwest of Cape Hatteras, N.C. The National Hurricane Center said Cristobal was moving north-northeast at about 6 mph with maximum sustained winds of about 45 mph and some higher gusts.

“Basically the track is running parallel to the coast,” said lead center forecaster Martin Nelson, speaking with The Associated Press by telephone from Miami. “Slow strengthening is forecast for the next day or two.”

At the By The Sea Motel in North Myrtle Beach, S.C., out-of-state visitors photographed outer storm bands as Cristobal churned off the coast, said hotel manager Charlie Peterson. Intermittent light rain fell in the afternoon but that wasn’t enough to chase them away.

“They’ve got their cameras set and they think there is going to be lightning over the water,” he said.

Bradley Rose, a surf instructor at SandBarz in Carolina Beach, N.C., said surfers took the plunge.

“It looks pretty fun out there,” Rose said.

Tropical storm warnings remained in effect from north of Little River Inlet in South Carolina to the North Carolina-Virginia state line.

Flood advisories were posted for coastal counties and Wilmington, N.C., received 21/2 inches of rain July 19, said Stephen Keebler, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service there.

Cristobal’s winds were not expected to be a problem, Keebler said.

Forecasters predicted up to 5 inches of rain along the North Carolina coast, with heavier amounts in some areas.

Eastern North Carolina is under a moderate drought while areas along South Carolina’s northern coast are considered abnormally dry, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Officials have blamed the drought for a huge wildfire that charred more than 40,000 acres in eastern North Carolina since it began June 1 with a lightning strike.

Elsewhere, Hurricane Bertha, the longest-lived July tropical storm in history, was downgraded to a tropical storm.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said Bertha had weakened and was expected to be absorbed by a larger weather system within the next few days.

At 11 p.m. EDT, the hurricane center reported that Bertha’s center was about 545 miles east of Cape Race Newfoundland, moving northeast at near 24 mph with maximum sustained winds of nearly 70 mph.

Bertha battered Bermuda earlier this week, knocking out electricity to thousands at the Atlantic tourist destination.

Associated Press Writers Meg Kinnard in Columbia, S.C., and Bill Cormier in Atlanta contributed to this report.

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