KILL DEVIL HILLS, N.C. — A strengthening Hurricane Arthur forced thousands of vacationers on the North Carolina coast to abandon their Independence Day plans while cities farther up the East Coast rescheduled fireworks displays threatened by rain from the storm.
Arthur strengthened to a Category 2 hurricane Thursday night, with winds of 100 mph as the storm neared North Carolina. Little change was expected in the storm’s strength Thursday night and today, and Arthur was expected to weaken as it travels northward and slings rain along the East Coast.
The annual Boston Pops Fourth of July concert and fireworks show was rescheduled for Thursday because of potential heavy rain from Arthur, while fireworks displays in New Jersey, Maine and New Hampshire were postponed until later in the weekend.
Either later Thursday or early today, Arthur was expected to pass over or near North Carolina and its Outer Banks — a 200-mile string of narrow barrier islands with about 57,000 permanent residents.
“We don’t know for sure if the exact center of Arthur is going to pass over land or not. The chances have been increasing for that to occur with the last couple of forecasts. But even if the exact center doesn’t go over you, you will experience impacts tonight. The weather is going downhill in North Carolina, even as we speak,” said Rick Knabb, the director of the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami.
The islands are susceptible to high winds, rough seas and road-clogging sands, prompting an exodus that began Wednesday night.
Among the tourists leaving Hatteras Island were 27-year-old Nichole Specht and 28-year-old Ryan Witman of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The couple started driving at 3:30 a.m. Thursday on North Carolina Highway 12, the only road on and off Hatteras.
“We were just saying we were really, really lucky this year that the weather was so great, and then this,” Specht said as she ended a two-week vacation.
Many island residents, meanwhile, decided to ride out the powerful storm rather than risk losing access to homes connected to the mainland by a highway prone to washouts.
“All the people that I know who live here are staying put,” said Mike Rabe, who planned to stay in his Rodanthe home despite an evacuation order for surrounding Hatteras Island.
The departures of vacationers left things “pretty dead” on Hatteras Island during the normally bustling run-up to the Independence Day weekend, Rabe said. He spent Thursday running errands and helping neighbors prepare their homes for the storm.
Before the storm hit, tourism officials had expected 250,000 people to travel to the Outer Banks for the holiday weekend.