Atlantic subtropical storm heads for N. Carolina
MIAMI (Reuters) - Subtropical Storm Gabrielle churned steadily across the Atlantic toward North Carolina early on Saturday, prompting warnings of rain and strong winds and currents in coastal areas as early as Sunday morning.
Gabrielle, the seventh named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, was about 315 miles southeast of Cape Lookout, North Carolina, at 5:00 a.m. (0900 GMT), the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.
The storm packed sustained winds of 45 mph (72 kph) with stronger gusts after being upgraded from a subtropical depression on Friday, and was forecast to strengthen gradually in the next 24 hours, the Miami-based agency said in an advisory.
"Slight strengthening is expected as Gabrielle acquires tropical characteristics," the center said, adding that it was unlikely to become significantly stronger. Top winds must reach at least 74 mph (119 kph) for a tropical or subtropical storm to become a hurricane.
A tropical storm watch continued for parts of the South Carolina and North Carolina coasts, as Gabrielle moved west-northwest at around 12 mph (19 kph). Two to six inches
of rain were forecast for areas of the North Carolina coast, the center said.
"Coastal residents from Onslow County north along the Outer Banks are urged to take action now to protect any property that may be threatened by tropical storm conditions," the National Weather Service said in a statement late on Friday from Newport, North Carolina.
"Winds will start to reach tropical storm force along the coast on Sunday morning. At this point winds are expected to reach 45 to 55 mph," it said.
Increasing swells and high tides would combine to produce dangerous rip currents along area beaches, the NWS said.
Computer models showed the weather system would most likely loop around to the northeast and cooler waters after reaching the coast.
It was very unlikely, however, the system could reach the top-rank strength of Hurricanes Dean and Felix, which slammed into Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula in August and Central America this week respectively as Category 5 hurricanes on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale of hurricane intensity.
Sea surface temperatures and atmospheric conditions off the U.S. Southeast were nowhere near as favorable for tropical cyclones as in the western Caribbean, where Dean and Felix grew into monster storms, the hurricane center said earlier.