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Arthur expected to become season's first hurricane, damper July Fourth festivities

By Greg Botelho, Ashley Fantz and Ed Payne, CNN
updated 2:23 AM EDT, Wed July 2, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Tropical Storm Arthur is stationary off Florida; expected to head up the coast later
  • NEW: A tropical storm watch is in effect for parts of Florida's eastern coast
  • NEW: Arthur is expected to strengthen into a hurricane
  • This is the first named storm in the Atlantic hurricane season

(CNN) -- East Coasters, if intense rains and strong winds ruin your Fourth of July holiday, you will have Arthur to blame.

That's the name of the first named storm of the 2014 Atlantic hurricane season. Arthur is now churning off the coast of eastern Florida.

As of 8 p.m. Tuesday, the center of Tropical Storm Arthur was stalled about 90 miles east-southeast of Cape Canaveral, Florida, and 95 miles north-northwest of Freeport in the Bahamas.

Arthur's predicted path  Arthur's predicted path
Arthur's predicted pathArthur's predicted path

But Arthur isn't expected to remain stationary for long, with the National Hurricane Center predicting it will drift northwest before turning north on Wednesday.

Potential hurricane aims at East Coast
Tropical storm threatens July 4th

The system is expected to go east of northeast Florida sometime Wednesday, before moving north and possibly affecting the Outer Banks of North Carolina on Thursday night.

By then, it may have changed to Hurricane Arthur, if it gets stronger, as forecasters expect. To reach that status, the storm must have sustained winds of at least 74 mph.

Already on Tuesday, parts of eastern Florida, from Fort Pierce to Flagler Beach, were under a tropical storm watch given the possible combination of powerful winds and heavy rains.

Grand Bahama Island saw sustained winds of 47 mph and a gust of 61 mph on Tuesday, according to the Miami-based hurricane center. Such winds may be the least of the worries for the Caribbean island chain, parts of which could end up drenched in 6 inches of rain through Wednesday.

Arthur is expected to produce significant, but slightly less, rainfall in the United States.

The hurricane center forecast calls for as much as 5 inches through Wednesday in Florida, with 1- to 3-inch totals more likely.

Other parts of the East Coast also are expected to be affected as the storm churns north.

CNN meteorologist Chad Myers said the fact that the Outer Banks, a string of barrier islands, is hard to get onto and off of may make the situation difficult for those who are planning to spend their July Fourth holiday there.

The islands are low and rain could easily wash onto the roads, making them impassable even before the eye of the storm makes landfall, he said. All preparation for the storm should be done as soon as possible, he stressed.

On Tuesday afternoon CNN affiliate WWAY in Wilmington, North Carolina, was asking its readers to take a survey measuring how concerned they are about Arthur. Will it make them "batten down the hatches" or be just "another day at the beach," or does it matter, "as long as it's gone in time for fireworks"? There's also an option for "don't know/don't care."

Lee Nettles, the executive director of the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau, said his office hasn't received any panicked or alarmed calls from anyone.

"You take every storm warning seriously," he said. "But, for the most part, folks aren't overly concerned."

After hitting the Carolinas, the system is likely to turn northeast, forecasters said.

By then, it could drench cities like Washington, New York and Boston, But it's unclear just how torrential the downpour might be or how it could affect Independence Day festivities, CNN's Myers said.

The good news is that none of the current National Weather Service forecasts for those three cities are predicting winds in excess of 10 mph through Thursday, at least. But there is a better than average chance that heavy rain could hit them all.

Here's a look at what you need to know about Independence Day

CNN's Ralph Ellis contributed to this report.

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