Ahead of July 4th, a tropical storm off Florida

Published on NewsOK Modified: July 2, 2014 at 1:31 am •  Published: July 2, 2014
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SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — With the July Fourth weekend on the horizon, the Atlantic hurricane season's first named storm plodded off Florida's coast early Wednesday, though Tropical Storm Arthur wasn't yet spooking too many in the storm's potential path.

"I think everybody's keeping one eye on the weather and one eye on the events this weekend," said Joe Marinelli, president of Visit Savannah, the city's tourism bureau.

A tropical storm watch was in effect for a swath of Florida's east coast. The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami urged those as far north as parts of Virginia to monitor Tropical Storm Arthur's path. The center said Arthur was becoming better organized and predicted it would become a hurricane by Thursday.

Early Wednesday morning, forecasters said the storm was growing a little stronger as it moved slowly northward. It was about 95 miles (155 km) off the coast of Cape Canaveral, Florida, and its maximum sustained winds had increased to about 60 mph (95 kph). The storm was heading north at about 4 mph (6 kph). A gradual increase in forward speed was expected Wednesday, followed by a turn to the northeast by Thursday, the Hurricane Center said.

Off Florida's Space Coast beaches — the closest to Arthur — the sky was cloudy and winds fairly normal, said Eisen Witcher, assistant chief of Brevard County Ocean Rescue.

Red flags warned of rough surf, and beachgoers were advised to get into the water only in areas with staffed lifeguard stands. But overall, Witcher said, "it's business as usual."

Red flags also flew at Daytona Beach. By midday, a dozen swimmers had been aided by lifeguards when they got caught in a rip current. On any given day, 15 to 20 swimmers need help, said Tammy Marris, spokeswoman for the Volusia County Beach Patrol.

Near the storm, 19 ill crew members were evacuated from a South Korean cargo ship after they showed signs of food poisoning. The cargo ship JS Comet was anchored 3 miles off Cape Canaveral, and the Coast Guard reported that deteriorating weather conditions were one factor in the decision to evacuate.

Outside Florida, there were no official storm watches or warnings, but forecasters started to warn of upcoming rain, heavy surf and swells, and rip tides.