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North Carolina dodges bullet after Arthur cracks limbs, rattles homes, then leaves

North Carolina dodges bullet after Arthur cracks limbs, rattles homes, then leaves
CNN
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Friday, July 4, 2014 - 11:54am

North Carolina seems to have dodged a bullet.

Hurricane Arthur did not dawdle over the coastline to vandalize neighborhoods for long. The storm accelerated its rapid trek north, the National Weather Service said, and was leaving land behind as the sun rose.

Once again, it's churning over the Atlantic on a water-bound path parallel to New England's coast.

As of 9 a.m. ET, Arthur weakened to Category 1 as it continued its path 130 miles east of Norfolk, Virginia, but still had maximum sustained winds of 90 mph. Parts of eastern North Carolina could see up to 8 inches of rain Friday, the weather service said. Cape Cod and Nantucket, Massachusetts, could get 6 inches.

The storm was moving northeast at 23 mph, prompting warnings and watches across the Northeastern seaboard and Canada's Maritime provinces, but a merciful jetstream was pushing to storm northeast, so it's not expected to make direct landfall in New England.

There's a possibility it could still hit Nova Scotia early Saturday, the weather service said, but it's expected to fizzle to a "post-tropical cyclone," meaning winds of about 40 mph, by then. A Category 1 hurricane starts at 74 mph.

A line of rain clouds is sweeping east overland to meet the hurricane as it climbs, dumping rain all the way up to Maine, downing trees and knocking out power long before Arthur is to arrive.

As Arthur leaves the South's shores, hurricane watches and warnings are vanishing and resurrecting, as tropical storm warnings are posted farther north in anticipation of the storm's gradual demise around Nova Scotia.

Shaking and rattling

When Arthur came ashore with 100-mph winds at 11:15 p.m. Thursday, Robin Nelson's house clattered and rumbled. She was right in the path of the eye wall.

The Category 2 storm made landfall between Cape Lookout and Beaufort, North Carolina, the National Hurricane Center said.

Nelson lives with her husband and two sons in Newport, right across the Newport River Sound from Beaufort.

She listened, as storm gusts announced themselves in the distance with a whirring hum before snapping tree limbs near her home.

"It's howling pretty good here," she said late Thursday. "You can hear it coming across the sound." First, a roar then, moments later, trees tousled about.

The sound of cracking branches was violent, she said. "I'm sure there are going to be some big limbs." Debris clanging into things dotted the drone of the wind.

Nelson interrupted the phone interview with CNN: "I just heard something else hit something."

Dark and stormy night

It was dark outside, so she checked Facebook for visible signs of neighborhood damage.

"We still have power and cable, which is amazing," she said. Many around her were less fortunate.

At the peak, nearly 21,000 customers had lost electricity along the coast of North Carolina as Hurricane Arthur passed through, Duke Energy said. The overwhelming majority were in Carteret County, where Nelson lives.

By 9 a.m. ET, Duke Energy and Dominion Power reported more than 18,000 customers still without power.

Sure enough, a friend had a limb on her roof. The same friend had fallen victim to theft a day before and lost her chainsaws.

The state's National Guard units will patrol early Friday to survey damage.

Nelson feels safe in her home. The family brought loose objects inside and turned garden furniture on its side, snugging it against walls and fences.

Gusts rattled her windows, giving her younger son insomnia. But it didn't phase her husband.

"He's very good at sleeping through hurricanes," Nelson said.

Hurricane holiday

The storm got more dangerous as it developed an inner eye wall, said CNN severe weather meteorologist Chad Myers.

"That's concerning, because the smaller the eye gets, the stronger the winds get," he said. They slammed waves through the pilings of piers late Thursday and whipped combers off of beaches with downpours blown sideways.

Though it has moved on, the hurricane leaves deadly danger lurking under its coattails: Possible rip currents. The weather service calls the spurts of back-flowing water -- that can drag a swimmer from the shore and out to sea -- the worst danger at the beach.

In 2009, tropical storms killed six people. All of them drowned in high waves or rip currents, the National Weather Service said. And it doesn't matter, if the storm has already passed -- it can sprout them from long distances.

They're hard to see and snatch bathers without warning.

Sherman Lee Criner is an iron man triathlete and confident he could swim out of a rip current, if he had to.

"Even so, I'm not going to get out in the water," he said. It would be a dumb thing to do, especially in front of the children traveling with him. "Of course, I'm not going to let the kids out there," he said.

Criner was vacationing in Arthur's bull's eye on Emerald Isle with his son, daughter and niece. It is just in front of Newport, right out on the Atlantic.

He didn't plan it to be right in the storm's path. He asked his two children and niece where they wanted to spend the holidays; they voted for the beach, and he granted the wish.

He thought of canceling the trip as the storm brewed but decided against it. "It's a doable storm," Criner said.

Weathering the storm

The lawyer lives in Wilmington and has sat out hurricanes before. He also felt confident about the sturdiness of their accommodations of concrete and steel.

"We're in an 8th floor condominium," he said. When Arthur's eye wall hit, he woke up son Sherman, 9, daughter Elizabeth, 14, and niece Mary Brown, 10.

They looked out the window at the surf below, as the storm surge pushed it up Indian Beach.

Their uncle told them a ghost story to make it more exciting, and just as they were getting the willies, the power went out. They all popped glow sticks.

Criner went down to beach to size Arthur up. He has experienced about half a dozen hurricanes and found this one's winds impressive but not scary. Criner had no problems standing up to them.

Arthur was expected to bring storm surges of up to 7 feet, as well as large, damaging waves, but they did not rise that high where Criner stood.

The wind blasted sand at his shirtless back, scrubbing it red and raw as he screamed over the howling wind into a cell phone camera.

July 4th impact

The storm interrupted other people's holiday plans, including a decision by the town of Surf City, North Carolina, to scrap its Fourth of July show. They will light up the fireworks on August 29 for an end-of-summer party.

The stormy weather is predicted to make an exception for the nation's capital, where skies look cheery for the holiday.

The slight chance of rain during the day Friday will vanish by night, leaving clear skies for the rockets' red glare of fireworks over the National Mall.

CNN's Eliott C. McLaughlin, Shawn Nottingham, Steve Almasy, Tina Burnside and Ted Winner contributed to this report.

The-CNN-Wire
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