Surfers eagerly await subtropical storm’s arrival

Students train with rescue boards and kayaks on Folly Beach as they work to become Ocean Rescue Lifeguards for Charleston County Parks.

Don’t look now, but the subtropics are throwing hurricane season a curve.

A storm forming off the Bahamas just might spin our way. And Lowcountry surf riders can’t wait to take a crack at it.

As of Monday afternoon, the best guess was that a subtropical to tropical storm could be making landfall or be just offshore early Friday, with winds from 35-45 mph, said Mark Malsick, S.C. Climate Office severe weather liaison. Minimal tropical storm strength is 39 mph, considered to be barely enough to break smaller limbs off trees or blow a few older shingles off roofs, according to the National Weather Service.

High surf, rip currents, coastal flooding and at least some rain are likely to be in the mix, National Weather Service, Charleston, forecasters said.

A subtropical storm is a storm that has some tropical cyclone characteristics, but isn’t as strong. The early May arrival of this one wouldn’t be unprecedented. But it would be an outlier, arriving a few weeks earlier than the June-November tropical season.

How bad it could get depends on how strong it becomes, when and where it lands, forecasters said Monday.

Computer model forecasts ranged from it making landfall from somewhere along the Georgia-South Carolina coast to North Carolina.

The National Hurricane Center on Monday gave the storm a 30 percent chance of turning tropical. Meteorologist Carl Barnes of the National Weather Service said forecasters are pretty confident the storm will gather itself off the Southeast coast.

“We’re still not sure where it goes from there,” he said.

“Regardless of how the disturbance evolves, we can expect an increasing risk of high surf and rip currents from Florida to the Carolinas over the next several days,” said Jeff Masters of Weather Underground.

For surf enthusiasts, the storm would arrive hanging right on the rail of the tropical season months that stir the big breakers they look forward to all year.

Bring it on, said one commenter on a Facebook post about the storm.

“We’re glad it’s a little early,” said Bates Hagood, general manager of Ocean Surf Shop on Folly Beach. On Monday, he already was adjusting schedules to give each of the staff some free time Thursday or Friday. “Everybody is definitely stoked to get some waves. We’re just hoping it’s not too choppy or windy,” he said.

Meteorologist Shea Gibson of Chucktown Wind Report, a kiteboarder, admitted to some bias when he said Monday he favored the computer prediction that brings in a subtropical storm just south of Charleston on Friday, a turn of events that would stir the best winds and surf. Cooler waters along the Continental Shelf shoreward of the Gulf Stream should keep it from intensifying too much, he said.

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