Cristobal inches closer to North Carolina coast

Sunday, July 20th 2008, 7:07 am
By: News 9

CHARLESTON, South Carolina -- Tropical storm Cristobal was forecast to move "parallel and very close" to the North Carolina coast Sunday morning, but the storm is not expected to make landfall along the eastern U.S. shores.

At 11 p.m. ET Saturday, the center of the storm was about 45 miles southeast of Cape Fear, North Carolina, and about 170 miles southwest of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. The National Hurricane Center said Cristobal was moving northeast at about 6 mph, with maximum sustained winds of about 45 mph and some higher gusts.

"The center of the tropical storm is expected to move parallel and very close to the coast of North Carolina for the next day or so," the NHC said. It is expected to dump between three and five inches of rain along the Carolina coast this weekend, it said.

The storm had not strengthened beyond the 45 mph top winds measured earlier on Saturday, according to the NHC.

A discussion posted online by NHC forecasters called Cristobal "convectively challenged" and predicted the storm would "become absorbed ahead of an approaching cold front" by late Monday.

Although the center of the storm was forecast to remain off the coast through the weekend, tropical storm warnings were in effect from the South Santee River in South Carolina to the North Carolina-Virginia state line, including Pamlico Sound.

Flood advisories were posted for coastal counties, and Wilmington, North Carolina, received 2½ inches of rain Saturday, said Stephen Keebler, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service there. Cristobal's winds were not expected to be a problem, Keebler said.

"It's some rain and a little bit of relief for the coastal areas and a lot of excitement, but that's about it," he said.

The rain bands were weakening as they spun farther inland, providing little relief for parched areas near Interstate 95 in North Carolina, he 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, and areas along South Carolina's northern coast are considered abnormally dry, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Officials have blamed the persistent drought for a massive wildfire that has burned more than 40,000 acres in eastern North Carolina since it began June 1 with a lightning strike.

As Cristobal lurked offshore, the storm was keeping many boaters off the waters -- and surfers in the waves.

On North Carolina's Outer Banks, surfers reveled in the waves as the storm churned offshore well to the south.

Bradley Rose, a surf instructor at SandBarz in Carolina Beach, North Carolina, said the waves were a bit choppy.

"It looks pretty fun out there," Rose said.

At the By the Sea Motel in North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, out-of-state vacationers took to the beach, trying to photograph the outer rain bands of Cristobal, hotel manager Charlie Peterson said. Intermittent rain showers during the afternoon were not enough to chase them away, and there were even brief moments of sunshine.

"They've got their cameras set, and they think there is going to be lightning over the water and all," he said. "They have never seen this."

Elsewhere Saturday, Hurricane Fausto strengthened far off Mexico's Pacific coast, while Hurricane Bertha, located east of Cape Race, Newfoundland, was downgraded to tropical storm status. Neither of those storms currently threatens land.

Bertha had blustered across Bermuda this week, knocking out electricity to thousands there.

(Copyright 2008 CNN. All rights reserved.)