With Tropical Storm Arthur forming off Florida’s Atlantic coast, town officials met Tuesday, July 1, to review the storm forecast model and adjust its plan for enforcement as the storm approaches. Following the briefing, town manager Tim Owens said, “We’re still going along with the Weather Service … sticking with their forecast at this point.”
Based on the current prediction that the storm will pass offshore Thursday evening and very early Friday morning, Owens said the multi-agency command center crew will still assemble at the U.S. Coast Guard Station Wrightsville Beach for July Fourth to monitor Masonboro Island activity.
“We’re still going to be vigilant over there with regard to police protection,” Owens said. “We’re all hands on deck for the Fourth.”
Owens said the public can expect to see an increased presence of lifeguards on duty into the evening hours of Thursday, July 3.
“They’re going to be fully staffed anyway. One of the things we’re going to do is keep them later on Thursday … probably closer to dark. A lot of times you’ll see folks—depending on whether it’s raining or not raining — they’ll go swimming a lot later, like they’ve been doing this whole week. It’s been hot.”
The worst case scenario said Wrightsville Beach Fire Chief Frank Smith would see sunny conditions while the storm passes offshore.
“It looks like a nice day. The ocean looks inviting; it doesn’t look rough; you don’t have the big churning waves; you don’t have howling wind; but you have these big swells that make very dangerous rip currents. That’s the most difficult condition to get folks to understand,” Smith said by telephone July 1. “It just looks nice and the danger is hidden under the surface.”
“At this point the major risk will be rough seas, dangerous rip currents which is always a hazard,” Smith said. “At a time when you have so many visitors in town, and many visitors who of course just aren’t familiar with the ocean and rip currents and things of that nature, we’re really going to try to very actively make announcements on the vehicles going up and down the beach and warn people about the dangerous conditions when they arise.”
Smith cautions beach goers to heed lifeguard advice and to limit themselves to their capabilities while storm conditions persist.
“They maybe experienced swimmers in a lake or a river but swimming in the ocean we have these conditions and it’s just a very different situation,” Smith said.
In the event of a hurricane warning issued 36 hours prior to the appearance of hurricane force conditions, town officials will prepare residents and visitors for an evacuation. Last month the town’s board of aldermen approved a hurricane plan revision that includes a change of venue for satellite operations during a catastrophic event. Elected officials and key staff will occupy rooms at the Residence Inn on Military Cutoff, adjacent to Wilmington Fire Station No. 9 and the county’s Northeast Library and Executive Development Center where post-storm residents may seek assistance.
“Fourth of July weekend is always challenging just because of the sheer number of visitors we have on the beach,” Smith said. Ensuring safety — water safety and emergency medical operations — are the biggest concerns, as is involvement in the unified command operation to monitor Masonboro festivities. “Fireworks are illegal in the State of North Carolina for a reason Smith said. “They injure people seriously; they start fires and in a community that’s as densely packed as Wrightsville Beach is over the Fourth of July, it’s just an extra risk we don’t need.”
Though the storm is still a developing situation Smith said, “Small changes in the track or the strength can make big differences for us. Everyone needs to stay tuned and act accordingly whatever that may be.”