Powerful Hurricane Earl is expected to roar past the Charleston area Thursday, kicking up gusty winds and waves that could crest at 8 feet, while worsening dangerous rip currents already tearing at area beaches.
The area could begin feeling some of those effects as early as today.
The good news for residents is that Earl, which grew into a major Hugo-strength Category 4 storm Monday, is projected to stay about 400 miles from Charleston when it passes by with 144-mph winds on its way up the East Coast.
Forecasters are calling for coastal winds of 30 mph and winds of 15 mph inland when the storm churns past, meteorologists with the National Weather Service in Charleston said. Waves could reach 8 feet by Thursday evening with a potential for 10- to 15-foot swells.
The waves and rip currents, which are a danger to beach-goers, also could cause some erosion, mostly at inlet areas such as Wild Dunes, Breach Inlet and Folly Beach, said Dan Burger, S.C. Ocean and Coastal Resource Management division communications director.
All of this has the attention of local emergency officials.
"We're keeping apprised of what (federal hurricane forecasters) are saying the storm could do," said Cathy Haynes, Charleston County Emergency Preparedness director.
The biggest immediate concern was for rip currents during the crowded Labor Day holiday weekend. Area beaches still are feeling the effects of such currents from Hurricane Danielle, which didn't do much damage when it passed last week.
The most severe effects of Earl, including potential landfall, are expected to be felt from North Carolina to Canada, said forecasters with AccuWeather.com, a private forecasting company.
Behind Earl, Fiona reached tropical-storm strength with 40-mph winds Monday. Fiona is the first of two storm waves still out in the far Atlantic Ocean that are expected to become tropical cyclones and follow tracks similar to Danielle's and Earl's. Fiona is moving much faster than Earl, and forecasters expect the storm to be pulled into the more powerful Earl and dissipate.
The parade of Cape Verde storms peeling off toward the Southeast has people wary in the Lowcountry, but Monday no one seemed to be too alarmed about "this Earl hurricane," as one resident said.
Employees at Lowe's and Home Depot stores reported no runs on hurricane supplies such as batteries and plywood. A hurricane display set up over the weekend did have some people eyeing generators and clean-up supplies, said Nanette McLaughlin, operations manager.
"Well, we've been through quite a few of these," said Don Stone, a 20-year Isle of Palms resident. "We hope Earl doesn't hit us, but we pretty well understand what the game is, to get out of the way."