The National Hurricane Center issued a tropical storm watch early Wednesday for the portion of the South Carolina coast north of the Santee River.
That means forecasters expect a chance of 39 mph or stronger winds from in that area within the next 48 hours. It also means they are less concerned about strong winds hitting the southern coastal areas.
The forecast has remained constant, with Arthur expected to intensify into a hurricane Thursday as it moves parallel to the S.C. coast. Here’s what forecasters expect:
• High waves are starting today and peaking Thursday with swells of 6-8 feet hitting beaches from Edisto to Myrtle Beach. Rip tides are likely. Swimming could be deadly.
• Most of the rainfall appears to be on the eastern side of the storm, away from the coast. The five-day precipitation forecast for the coastal areas is only about 1.5 inches. Less than half an inch in the Midlands.
• Winds along the Grand Strand will be blustery Thursday, but conditions should improve quickly Friday and through the weekend.
Arthur’s top sustained winds went from 40 mph in midday to 50 mph by late afternoon, and the National Hurricane Center changed its forecast to say the system will be a minimal hurricane when it passes offshore of South Carolina Thursday afternoon. Earlier, the forecasts had it not hitting hurricane strength of 74 mph until Friday over North Carolina’s Outer Banks.
While the highest probability was for the center of the storm to remain off South Carolina, state officials began to prepare for the worst. The state Emergency Management Division went to OpCon 4, which is the second of five levels of alert and puts other state agencies on notice to be ready to respond to the storm.
The various forecast models agree strongly on the path of the storm, curving slowly north and west. But the intensity models vary remarkably, some showing Arthur’s winds only growing to about 70 mph, while others put the winds as high as 90 mph. That’s more a concern for the Outer Banks than South Carolina.
If the path forecast holds, there’s a slim chance of 50 mph winds along the Grand Strand on Thursday, but most of the South Carolina coast should face only a short stretch of winds in the 30-40 mph range. Rough surf and rip currents are expected on the beaches starting late Wednesday and all day Thursday.
Fortunately, in terms of beach erosion, the storm is hitting at neap tide, when the natural tides are lower than normal.