Lowcountry awaits Alberto’s move

Surfers flocked to Folly Beach on Sunday to take advantage of waves produced by Tropical Storm Alberto. For more photos, go to postand courier.com.

Boaters and swimmers should be extra careful today as Tropical Storm Alberto churns by Charleston.

Alberto is expected to pass off the Lowcountry’s coast late this afternoon, bringing more choppy waves, a danger of rip currents and a 20 percent chance of rain.

“It’s pretty far off the coast,” said Pete Mohlin, a meteorologist with the Charleston office of the National Weather Service.

“Most of the impact would be over the Atlantic waters. The worst effects are definitely going to remain offshore. Boaters should be cautious.”

Alberto, the first tropical storm of the year, formed about two weeks earlier than normal. After checking the records, Mohlin said an early storm gives no clue what kind of hurricane season might follow.

“There’s no correlation whatsoever,” he said. “It does not necessarily mean an active rest of the season.”

A tropical storm watch was lifted Sunday, although a small-craft advisory for boats five to 10 miles offshore remains in effect.

Waves near local beaches are expected to remain choppy today. That’s not good news for Folly Beach County Park, which has been closed since last summer, after waves from Hurricane Irene ate several feet of beach and undermined piers, buildings and infrastructure, making the park unsafe.

“We’re monitoring it,” Park Manager Eric Stewart said Sunday night at high tide. “I’m expecting a little more damage. There’s not much left, as far as dunes, out there, so any loss at this point is definitely something that concerns me. I don’t know what’s going to happen in the next couple days.”

However, surfers are loving it, said Cece Taylor, a clerk at Bert’s Market on Folly Beach. She could tell because they’re coming in buying wax for their boards and bananas and corn dogs for energy.

The waves also are affecting the fishing on the Folly pier.

“They only thing you’re going to catch out here (today) are sharks,” County Parks worker D.J. Beckman of James Island said Sunday around sunset.

As if on cue, Ashlei Armstrong of Lexington pulled in a 3-foot shark.

“We’ve caught five of them today,” she said.

The waves are much more of a concern several miles offshore, said Coast Guard Charleston Petty Officer Christopher McDonald. When waves get to be 8 feet high, the Coast Guard can’t respond to emergencies with the usual 41-foot boats.

Instead they have to send out the 87-foot cutters, such as the Yellowfin at the Charleston base.

“That’s basically the status we’re in right now,” he said.

On the other hand, the Coast Guard doesn’t have to take out the bigger boats on rescue missions very often, he said.

“The public is generally pretty well aware of the storms and tend to stay off the water (when the waves get too high),” he said.

A group of kayakers pulled into the Coastal Expeditions headquarters at Crosby’s Seafood on Folly Road about sunset Sunday, after an outing on Folly Creek. They will check the weather report before deciding whether to go out again today, manager Heidi Champion said.

Sunday’s choppy water didn’t cancel the trip, but it caused them to go out in tandem for more stability, she said.

Reach Dave Munday at 937-5553.