Tropical Storm Arthur continued to gain strength Wednesday as it trudged along the central coast of Florida and is likely to become the season’s first Atlantic hurricane Thursday.
The slow-moving storm with tropical-force winds extending about 70 miles from its center was headed north after briefly moving south on Monday, when it formed. Forecasters with the National Hurricane Center expect Arthur to head past the northeast corner of Florida sometime Wednesday, before turning toward the Carolinas.
At 5 a.m. Wednesday, the storm was 90 miles off Cape Canaveral and moving away from Florida. A hurricane watch was issued for part of North Carolina's coast early Wednesday as Tropical Storm Arthur moved northward, threatening Fourth of July plans along the East Coast.
A Hurricane Hunter plane, sent to investigate the storm Tuesday afternoon, measured sustained winds of 50 mph with higher gusts. The crew reported being “bounced around pretty good by strong thunderstorms,” before taking refuge at a higher altitude.
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Maximum winds were up to 60 mph on Wednesday morning.
While Arthur is expected to remain offshore as it meanders north, forecasters say it will strengthen over the next 48 hours, so tropical storm and hurricane watches could be extended.
“We’re now urging folks on the coast to monitor the situation because a lot of people have beach plans for the holiday, so they need to be watching this real close,” said National Hurricane Center spokesman Dennis Feltgen.
If Arthur strengthens to a hurricane as predicted, it will arrive a week before hurricanes typically form in the Atlantic. No hurricane has struck Florida in eight years, although there have been near misses, including Dorian, which made a beeline for Florida last July before turning north.
Even as Arthur formed to the north, South Florida felt its effects this week. The storm’s southern edge packed the worst of its thunderstorms, meaning a lingering tail could continue to churn out messy weather, forecasters said. The wet system could dump one to three inches of rain along the east coast with some spots receiving as much as five inches. And the northwestern Bahamas could see two to four inches, with as much as six inches in some areas.
Clouds and rain that covered South Florida Monday and Tuesday are expected to continue through Wednesday as winds from the east and west collide to spark more rain, said National Weather Service meteorologist Dave Ross.
By Thursday, clouds should clear out with the chance of rain dropping to about 20 percent, he said.
The system has sent a lot of moisture to South Florida already. On Monday, parts of Miami Beach received as much as 3.5 inches, while the Doral area also topped three inches and Miami International Airport received less than two inches.
Forecasters with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have predicted a slow hurricane season for 2014 with eight to 13 tropical storms. They say three to six could grow into hurricanes and two may become major storms packing winds over 111 mph. On average, 12 named storms form, with six turning into hurricanes and three strengthening to major storms.