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Published: Friday, 7/4/2014

Hurricane Arthur puts damper on July 4 events along East Coast

WASHINGTON POST

A hurricane wheeling up the Atlantic Ocean is wreaking havoc on Independence Day fun from the Mid-Atlantic to New England.

The annual Boston Pops Fourth of July concert was moved from today to Thursday. North Carolina’s Surf City scrapped its annual fireworks show. On the North Carolina shore, celebrations were pushed to Saturday, Sunday or Monday.

Arthur was designated as the first Atlantic hurricane of the season at 5 a.m. Thursday as it headed toward the Outer Banks of North Carolina, a strip of barrier islands that are popular vacation spots for Washingtonians.

As of 9 p.m., the National Hurricane Center said the hurricane’s peak winds had increased to 100 mph, making it a Category 2 hurricane. The National Weather Service predicted Arthur would hit the North Carolina coast overnight or Friday morning. After this morning, Arthur is forecast to continue toward New England.

Although they are clear of the hurricane’s predicted path, Virginia Beach and Maryland’s Eastern Shore are expecting wind and rain to put a damper on July 4 celebrations. Ocean City, Virginia Beach and Bethany Beach rescheduled their fireworks to Saturday night.

The National Park Service said it hopes to hold its fireworks show on the National Mall in Washington as scheduled tonight, but it is prepared to postpone it if the weather interferes.

Carol Johnson, a Park Service spokesman, said 6,000 fireworks were set up early on Thursday near the Lincoln Memorial, along with a fence to protect the fireworks and mesh to shield them from sidelong rain.

“As long as anyone can remember, they’ve never been rescheduled,” Johnson said. “They’ve maybe been pushed back half an hour.”

Jason Samenow, meteorologist for The Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang, said the storm could have winds as fast as 105 mph when it hits land in North Carolina, making it powerful enough to damage roofs and take down trees and power lines.

“This is looking like the most potent hurricane to make landfall in the United States in six years,” Samenow said.

Washington and its suburbs will be only slightly affected, Samenow said. The hurricane is not expected to come inland as far as the District of Columbia, but the moisture and humidity from the storm system contributed to severe thunderstorms in the region Thursday afternoon.

Those storms knocked out power for tens of thousands of customers across the Washington region, tore part of the roof off an apartment building in College Park, toppled trees onto roads and houses, and splattered the region with quarter-size hail. One woman was struck by lightning in Montgomery County but was not seriously injured.

As of 9 p.m., about 80,000 outages were reported across the Washington region, including about 63,000 in Southern Maryland’s Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.

Also Thursday night, a signal outage between Washington and Philadelphia delayed trains due to severe thunderstorms.

Amtrak spokeswoman Vernae Graham said about 20 trains were delayed by intermittent power outages and downed trees in areas between the District of Columbia and Philadelphia, but mainly in the corridor north of Baltimore. As of 10:30 p.m., hundreds of passengers continued to deal with delays as trains traveled through areas that had lost power.

“We’re just sort of slow moving through the area,” Graham said.

By Saturday, the weather should be clear at the beaches in North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland, and beaches in New England will be clear by Saturday afternoon. Even though the skies will be sunny, the storm will leave behind high seas and rip currents that could make swimming risky until Sunday.

In North Carolina, Gov. Pat McCrory declared a state of emergency for 25 coastal and adjoining counties Wednesday evening. “Don’t put your ‘stupid hat’ on,” he said at a news conference, urging those who choose to stay to avoid the water. On Thursday, he reassured residents and visitors that the state was prepared for the worst but was optimistic.

“This holiday weekend is one of the biggest weekends for coastal tourism,” he said, “and we expect a beautiful weekend after the hurricane.”

Hurricanes are hardly a new experience for the Outer Banks, which was hit by Irene in 2011, Ophelia in 2005, Alex in 2004, Isabel in 2003 and Floyd in 1999.

The thin, fragile islands are prone to flooding. Most houses are built on stilts for just that reason.

Hatteras Island, a long stretch of sand that covers half the length of the Outer Banks, was put under mandatory evacuation Thursday, officials said. Ocracoke Island, to the south, was under voluntary evacuation.

“We’re closing this evening and tomorrow, but we believe the storm will be past us and we’ll be able to open for the night of the Fourth,” Nathaniel Schramel, whose father owns the Flying Melon Cafe on Ocracoke, said Thursday. Despite the voluntary evacuation, he said, the island was still busy with tourists and locals.

In the wider land north of Hatteras, locals and seasoned visitors weren’t worried.

“We’ll drop the storm shutters, and we’ll round up anything that could be taken for a ride with the wind, but all the indications are it’s going to be in and out quick,” said Richard Hoffman, a math teacher in Kill Devil Hills. His daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren are visiting for the holiday. They will barbecue Friday regardless of weather, he said — they can put the grill under the house.

For others, however, the oncoming storm interrupted holiday plans.

“We’re going to get together at our house back in Silver Spring and simulate our time together with a barbecue,” Mary Jo Schumaker said Thursday as she returned from Hatteras, where she and her family vacation with friends each summer.

They had to evacuate in August 2011 for Hurricane Irene, so they moved their trip to earlier in the season to avoid future storms. And yet they were forced off the island again.

“We’re all very disappointed,” she said. “But when you’re dealing with nature, there’s not much you can do.”



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