What to expect from Arthur

By 2 p.m. Thursday

Far northern Charleston County: 50 percent chance of rain, winds 15-20 mph, gusts up to 40 mph.

Charleston downtown: 40-50 percent chance of rain, winds 15-20 mph, gusts to 30 mph.

Southern Charleston County: 30 percent chance of rain, winds 20 mph, gusts to 30 mph.

Tidal Berkeley County: 50 percent chance of rain, winds 15-20 mph, gusts to 30 mph.

Inland Berkeley County: 30 percent chance of rain, winds 15-20 mph, gusts to 30 mph.

Dorchester County: 20-30 percent chance of rain, winds 10-15 mph, gusts to 25 mph.

By 8 p.m.

Conditions subsiding.

National Weather Service, Charleston

Just a wobble away - that's how close Tropical Storm Arthur will come Thursday to the Lowcountry.

Folly surf

To see the break at Folly Beach from Tropical Storm or Hurricane Arthur, go to surfline.com.

Forecasters said the eye of the storm will pass 100 miles out to sea or closer. On Wednesday, the storm's winds extended 90 miles from the eye.

The National Weather Service's forecast Thursday night called for strong winds and rain squalls for Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester counties - harsher nearer the coast - but not tropical storm conditions.

The storm's path, though, didn't leave much room to breathe. Peak winds on Wednesday were estimated at 70 mph - just 4 mph shy of hurricane strength.

"If the track tends to wobble to the west there could be some more issues," said meteorologist Emily Timte, with the weather service. "There's definitely a chance, but the (computer forecast) models have been fairly consistent."

The beaches will see surf at 6 feet or higher and high tide about 1 p.m. with the storm closing in. Powerful rip currents will be a real threat and there's potential for beach erosion.

The storm was forecast to become a Category 1 hurricane sometime Thursday. Arthur had not been upgraded as of 11 p.m. Wednesday. Tropical storm warnings were issued for the Charleston-Georgetown county line north to Virginia. A hurricane watch was issued from Little River, near North Myrtle Beach into North Carolina, where some evacuations have been ordered.

"It now brings the core of Arthur close to the coast of North Carolina," said National Hurricane Center senior hurricane specialist Lixion Avila. The range of potential landfall was from the Santee River, at the Charleston County line near McClellanville, into North Carolina.

The storm reared up on the eve of one the year's busiest holiday and travel weekends. On Wednesday, the horde of umbrellas and bathers already resembled a weekend crowd on the sand near the Folly Beach pier.

Arthur is expected to at least graze the Myrtle Beach area, the heart of South Carolina's $18 billion tourism industry. The storm was forecast to move in by Thursday night, spinning wind gusts from 40 to 50 mph toward the high-rise hotels and condominiums lining the oceanfront.

Farther south, in Hilton Head Island on the state's southern tip, most were confident the storm would pass well out at sea.

Arthur was tracking toward North Carolina's Outer Banks, a popular getaway spot that is a strip of barrier islands 10 miles or more out to sea from the mainland, and so thin that in places high surf breaks through to the sound.

The forecast did not call for a landfall in the U.S., but the worst of the storm should occur at Cape Hatteras on the Outer Banks, about dawn Friday, with 3 to 5 inches of rain and sustained winds up to 85 mph, said Tony Saavedra, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service. A mandatory evacuation was issued for Hatteras and the Outer Banks. The Outer Banks will be especially vulnerable, forecasters said. The area's tourism agency expects about 250,000 people to travel there and stay in hotels and rental homes for the long holiday weekend.

Twice in recent years, storm-driven waves have sliced through North Carolina Route 12, the main road along the islands, rendering it unpassable. On Ocracoke Island, accessible only by ferry, a voluntary evacuation was announced.

Stores in the Outer Banks saw runs on generators, lanterns and flashlights, but even some workers weren't yet concerned.

"I've been through Irene. I went through Isabelle," said Bill Motley, who works at Ace Hardware in Nags Head has lived on the Outer Banks for 13 years. "I'm not even worried about this one. I'm more worried about my tomato plants. With the wind coming, if we get a 50-mph gust, it will knock over my tomato plants."

At a news conference, N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory advised residents, "Don't put your stupid hat on." With concerns of riptides, he urged surfers and swimmers not to get in the water regardless of how good the waves might be.

Officials and travelers north to New England kept an eye on the storm's projected path. Many areas warned of upcoming rain, wind and potential rip tides.

The hurricane center predicted the storm would be off the coast of New England on Saturday and eventually make landfall in Canada's maritime provinces as a tropical storm.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Reach Bo Petersen at 937-5744, @bopete on twitter or Bo Petersen Reporting on Facebook.