Gabrielle expected to slosh across North Carolina’s Outer Banks with heavy rain

Published 10:01 pm Saturday, September 8, 2007

Subtropical Storm Gabrielle moved toward the East Coast, where a tropical storm warning was in effect for North Carolina’s shoreline early Saturday.

“It’s going to get a little gnarly,” said 51-year-old Sharon Peele Kennedy, a lifetime resident of the Outer Banks who works at the Hatteras Harbor Marina in Hatteras, N.C.

“We’re securing, but not too fast,” she said. “There’s no evacuation issue at all. This is just a little breeze.”

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The National Hurricane Center forecast called for Gabrielle to brush North Carolina’s Outer Banks on Sunday afternoon, with maximum winds of between 60 and 65 mph, before curving back out into the Atlantic. Forecasters don’t expect the storm to become a hurricane.

At 11 a.m. Saturday, Gabrielle had top sustained winds near 45 mph and was centered about 255 miles southeast of Cape Lookout, N.C., and moving northwest about 10 mph.

A tropical storm warning was issued from Surf City, N.C., to the Virginia state line. A tropical storm watch also was issued northward to Cape Charles, Va., along the Atlantic Coast and to New Point Comfort peninsula, along the Chesapeake Bay.

Forecasters dropped a tropical storm watch along South Carolina’s coast that stretched to Edisto Beach, just southwest of Charleston, S.C.

Tropical storm warnings were already posted for offshore waters.

“It’s not expected to get too strong. There are a lot of negative factors working against it — a lot of dry air aloft,” said James Wingenroth, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Morehead City, N.C. “It’s just not looking at this point that it’s going to be anything more than a strong tropical storm.”

Gabrielle formed along an old frontal boundary that stalled about midway between the Southeast coast and Bermuda, drawing the attention of coastal residents for the past few days. It finally spun into a storm late Friday evening.

Officials urged residents and visitors to the Outer Banks, a popular beach vacation spot, to get ready for the storm by securing loose items outside their homes and to remain indoors as the storm blows through.

“The greatest danger will be flooding in low lying areas and on roads, such as Highway 12 on the Outer Banks,” said North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley. “The most deaths during tropical storms occur when people drive into flood waters and drown. Rip currents will be strong in the ocean. The safest place to be will be indoors.”

Subtropical storms are hybrid systems and typically weaker than hurricanes. They share the characteristics of tropical storms, which get their power from the warm ocean, as well as storms that form when warm and cold fronts collide.

Forecasters said Gabrielle could bring between 2 and 4 inches of rain to eastern North Carolina with some areas receiving as much as 6 inches.

The rain will be welcome in the parched Carolinas. Of North Carolina’s 100 counties, seven are in exceptional drought, 66 are in extreme drought, 20 are in severe drought and seven are in moderate drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley asked Friday that all of the state’s local governments to immediately enact voluntary or mandatory water restrictions.

Earlier this week, South Carolina officials urged water systems to conserve water as nearly all the state was declared to be in an extreme drought.

The only two counties not included — Jasper and Beaufort — have, in essence, already gotten some rain from Gabrielle. The front that spawned the storm moved through last weekend, dumping as much as 8 inches of rain in the area.