TIME weather

Hurricane Arthur Heads Northeast, Brings July 4 Travel Chaos

Gridlock spans the Eastern U.S. with more than a thousand flights canceled on a weekend when 41 million Americans are expected to travel

Updated 12:11 p.m. E.T.

Hurricane Arthur made its way north up the East Coast on Friday, after forcing thousands of Fourth of July vacationers to evacuate and creating gridlock on highways and skyways as rain scrambled holiday plans and rescheduled fireworks shows.

After the hurricane made landfall late Thursday night, the National Weather Service said North Carolina could get eight inches of rain on Friday, while areas as far north as Cape Cod in Massachusetts could se six inches. Arthur became a Category 2 storm overnight, and fierce winds were expected to push into Virginia on Friday. Authorities warned of coastal flooding and dangerous ocean conditions up and down the East Coast, and tropical storm warnings were in effect all the way to Cape Cod. It weakened to a Category 1 storm Friday morning as it moved up the East Coast.

Despite sunny skies forecast for the weekend, heavy rain had already wreaked havoc on Fourth of July plans. Cities as far north as Boston had rescheduled their fireworks for Thursday night or later in the weekend in anticipation of soggy weather.

Arthur was the earliest hurricane to hit North Carolina since record-keeping efforts began in 1851. The storm system continued to bring heavy rains and winds of up to 100 m.p.h. early Friday morning, with meteorologists anticipating “little change in strength” as the storm grazes the Eastern seaboard over the course of the day.

More than 21,000 people across North and South Carolina were without electricity early Friday morning, the Associated Press reports. The storm was heading northeast at 22 m.p.h. and was about 80 miles north of Cape Lookout, N.C., by early Friday, CNN reports.

Arthur created a pattern of gridlock spanning the U.S. More than a thousand flights had been canceled by midday Thursday—a frustrating start to a weekend when 41 million Americans were projected to travel.

“I found out at 5 p.m. [on Wednesday] that my 7:50 p.m. flight was canceled due to ‘air-traffic congestion [because of Arthur],” Taylor Laub, who was scheduled to fly to Philadelphia from Atlanta, told TIME from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Her rescheduled flight had been “successively delayed” into late Thursday night.

The scene at Reagan Washington National Airport on Thursday afternoon was chaos as Hurricane Arthur continued to gather strength off the coast of North Carolina. Passengers on flights scheduled to leave mid-afternoon were still waiting at 8:30 p.m.

One such passenger was David Luterman, who did his best to ignore the turmoil around him, reading a magazine in front of Gate 2 in Reagan National’s Terminal A, waiting to take off on what should have been a 3:40 p.m. Jet Blue flight to Boston. “Ladies and gentlemen, we apologize,” a Jet Blue employee announced over the loudspeaker around 5:45 p.m. “We’re just waiting for the lightning to clear for the ramp to open so we can land, disembark and clean the plane to continue on to Boston. We hope to have you on your way as soon as possible.”

Three hours later, that flight still hadn’t boarded.

Luterman had hoped make it back to his Boston-area home to spend the holiday weekend with his family. “I really want to get home,” he said.

In the days preceding the storm, state authorities warned of flooding and other damage, prompting mandatory evacuations in vulnerable areas and forcing thousands of vacationers to make alternate plans for their Fourth of July weekend. Tourism officials in North Carolina had initially projected a quarter of a million people to travel to the beaches of the Outer Banks for the holiday.

“We’ve lost a lot of business because of the storm — people are afraid of hurricanes,” said Jeff, the night manager of the Nags Head Inn in Nags Head, N.C., early Friday morning. “We were expecting to be 80 to 90% full, and now it’s looking more like 60.”

Storm preparation is a familiar routine along the North Carolina coast, where some of the most devastating tropical cyclones of recent years have made landfall. As Arthur churned in the Atlantic on Thursday, local supermarkets were crowded with residents stocking up on flashlights and bottled water. The town of Surf City canceled its Fourth of July celebration.

Rough surf and rip currents will remain a major concern along East Coast beaches, and swimmers have been advised to be extra cautious.

At the same time, a good number of North Carolinians have responded with indifference, dismissing the ongoing media coverage of the hurricane as unnecessarily alarmist.

“We had a big increase in sales today, which is normal when hurricanes come,” an employee at a Harris Teeter grocery store in the beach town of Kitty Hawk said. “But it’s really not too bad. It seems pretty overhyped.”

-Additional reporting by Jay Newton-Small/Washington

TIME weather

Hurricane Arthur as Seen from Space

The eye of Hurricane Arthur is seen over the Atlantic in this photo from the International Space Station tweeted by European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst July 3, 2014.
The eye of Hurricane Arthur is seen over the Atlantic in this photo from the International Space Station tweeted by European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst, July 3, 2014. NASA/Reuters

The International Space Station captured a beautiful faraway view of the storm that began to wreck havoc on the eastern United States just before the Fourth of July

MONEY The Economy

Hurricane Arthur’s Threat to the July 4 Economy

A major storm is threatening the East Coast on the biggest holiday weekend of the summer, and evacuations have already sent hundreds of thousands of people scurrying away from the coast.

Hurricane Arthur’s timing couldn’t be worse. While hurricane season technically starts in June, few expect big storms to arrive before late July. Tourists tend to think of the Fourth of July weekend as a pretty safe bet.

“You expect it to be hot, maybe a little muggy,” says Douglas Woodward, a University of South Carolina business professor who has studied the economic impact of hurricanes. What you don’t anticipate is a storm strong enough to force 250,000 people to evacuate (which is what happened in North Carolina’s Outer Banks), or that caused one major city (Boston) to move its Fourth of July fireworks show up a day to avoid Arthur at its peak.

“I’ve been here 28 years, and I don’t recall a significant storm hitting this early in the season,” said Woodward. “You think maybe over Labor Day there could be one, but not July Fourth.”

It’d be reasonable to assume that the economic impact of such a storm, which has caught many tourists off guard, is likely to be devastating. Surprisingly, experts and even local business owners don’t think this will be the case.

(MORE: It’s Hurricane Season: 5 Ways to Disaster-Proof Your Finances)

“The timing’s bad, that’s undeniable,” said William Hall, an economics professor at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. “But all signs indicate this will be a mild storm. It’ll be a short-lived event.” Hall predicated that power outages will be “minimal,” and estimated that coastal retail businesses might see revenues fall one percentage point or two because of Arthur. “There will be a lot of people who cancel today or tomorrow at hotels, but most of them will be replaced by walk-in traffic, so those rooms will be rented,” he said. The storm “will have an impact, but won’t be anywhere near a 100-year impact.”

Even in Boston, where Fourth of July festivities were hurriedly moved a day earlier to avoid the incoming storm, Arthur isn’t supposed to put much of a hurting on the economy. Boston 4 Productions, the group responsible for Independence Day fireworks and an evening Boston Pops concert, is merely turning their previously scheduled dress rehearsal—which traditionally draws 75,000 people—into the main event. So the costs incurred by switching the date are mostly a wash.

Steve MacDonald, the company’s spokesman, says that workers had successfully finished loading pyrotechnics on Wednesday night, so the fireworks show would be ready for Thursday (rather than Friday) evening. Ultimately, the show looks to remain on budget. “The biggest cost is to the public having to adjust their schedules,” said MacDonald.

Arthur also seems unlikely to seriously impact local Boston businesses. Randy Clutter, general manager of Bistro Du Midi, a French eatery just a few blocks away from the city’s Independence Day events, explained that the Fourth of July isn’t a particularly essential weekend for the restaurant business.

“If this would happen on New Year’s Eve, that would be a disaster,” said Clutter. “Valentines Day, that would be a disaster.” On the other hand, the Fourth of July “is not a make-or-break day for us.” Clutter expects traffic to be down about 30% on Friday, but doesn’t foresee the storm having a major impact on his bottom line.

In fact, many businesses stand to benefit from the fact that Arthur has thrown a huge number of tourists’ plans up in the air. Most obviously, the 250,000 Outer Banks evacuees have to go somewhere. While many will simply go home—if they live in Raleigh, for instance—others will wait out the storm in motels and spend money in inland-town businesses and restaurants along I-95, where traffic is sure to be horrendous. “It’ll help Cracker Barrel, that’s for sure,” said USC’s Woodward.

In the popular South Carolina beach destination of Myrtle Beach, chamber of commerce president Brad Dean told the Sun News that he expected spending to be strong. “We anticipate a wet, windy start to the holiday weekend, which may actually drive some business to the indoor amusements in our area, but overall it will be a fun time for visitors and residents,” Dean said on Wednesday. “Visitors are still planning to come, and the weekend should be packed with vacationers.”

Yet while Arthur’s economic impact appears that it won’t be catastrophic, the arrival of a major storm so early in the season is worrisome for a different reason. “This was supposed to be a mild season,” said UNCW’s Hall. “But it sure is starting off with a bang, isn’t it?”

Longer term, the economic impact of Arthur and similar storms on the Outer Banks depends largely on how Highway 12, the lone road to Hatteras Island, holds up. “It’s the most vulnerable stretch of highway in America,” said Robert Young, director of Western Carolina University’s Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines.

Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent on the road’s upkeep, which is damaged and even washed away in parts on a fairly regular basis. When that happens, the road can be closed for days, sometimes weeks, and beyond the millions spent on repairs, there’s obviously a sizeable impact on local businesses, beach rental properties, and the vacation plans of thousands of tourists. “It’s such a vulnerable road that it doesn’t have to be a big storm to cause major problems,” said Young.

TIME weather

Hurricane Arthur Threatens July 4 Weekend for Many

Hurricane Arthur 4th of July
Kyler Cook, 18, walks through the storm surge of Hurricane Arthur in Ocean Isle Beach, N.C., on July 3, 2014. Randall Hill—Reuters

“Don’t put your stupid hat on,” North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory said at a press conference after declaring a state of emergency

Updated 11:34 p.m. E.T. Thursday.

Hurricane Arthur has finally made landfall near the southern end of North Carolina’s Outer Banks. The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said Arthur reached land around 11:15 p.m. on Thursday between Cape Lookout and Beaufort, N.C.

Arthur was a Category 2 storm with maximum sustained winds of 100 m.p.h. (160 km/h) and was located about 65 miles (105 km) southwest of Cape Hatteras, N.C., the Associated Press reported. It is moving northeast at 18 m.p.h. (30 km/h).

Fourth of July plans came to a screeching halt for many across the U.S. on Thursday, as the effects of a Category 1 hurricane began to work their way up the East Coast, causing flight delays and cancellations, and evacuations in some critical areas.

The scene at Reagan Washington National Airport on Thursday afternoon was chaos as Hurricane Arthur continued to gather strength off the coast of North Carolina. Passengers on flights scheduled to leave mid-afternoon were still waiting at 8:30 p.m.

One such passenger was David Luterman, who did his best to ignore the turmoil around him, reading a magazine in front of Gate 2 in Reagan National’s Terminal A, waiting to take off on what should have been a 3:40 p.m. Jet Blue flight to Boston. “Ladies and gentlemen, we apologize,” a Jet Blue employee announced over the loudspeaker around 5:45 p.m. “We’re just waiting for the lightning to clear for the ramp to open so we can land, disembark and clean the plane to continue on to Boston. We hope to have you on your way as soon as possible.”

Three hours later, that flight still hadn’t boarded.

Luterman had hoped make it back to his Boston-area home to spend the holiday weekend with his family. “I really want to get home,” he said.

Washington remained under a severe-storm warming until 9 p.m. Thursday. Tropical-storm warnings were also issued Thursday afternoon for Nantucket Island and parts of Cape Cod in Massachusetts, AP reported, though the full brunt of the storm itself likely won’t reach that far north until late Friday.

At the next gate over, a woman who only wanted to be known as H.R. clutched in one hand the remnants of a three-hour-old salad, her son’s tickets, passport and her iPhone in another. She was trying to get her 13-year-old son to Toronto where his five cousins were eagerly awaiting his two-week visit. That flight and one to Montreal were canceled.

“I booked a flight to Thailand for myself months ago,” H.R. said. “I leave tomorrow but if I can’t get him out,” she said, poking her lanky son who towered over her, “I can’t go. The other airline isn’t going to be sympathetic about Air Canada’s cancellations.”

Every gate in the terminal had people stacked in line, haggling with gate agents over tickets and delays. The walls were lined with would-be passengers as empty seats were not to be found. “It’s going to be a long night,” said John Henry, whose flight to Miami for a bachelor party was already two hours delayed. He and his buddies had already downed a few beers at the airport bar. “But I feel like I went straight to hangover. This is un-fun.”

Arthur’s current estimated trajectory has it grazing North Carolina’s northern seashore by Friday morning, prompting officials to order a mandatory evacuation of Hatteras Island — one of the many barrier islands making up the Outer Banks, where a quarter of a million people were projected to converge for the Fourth of July holiday weekend, according to the Associated Press. “Don’t put your stupid hat on,” North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory said at a press conference Thursday, after declaring a state of emergency in 25 coastal counties, urging swimmers and surfers to avoid the ocean in light of the impending storm. “Our major goal is to ensure that no lives are lost during this upcoming storm,” McCrory said.

Here’s the latest storm track, via the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration:

hurricane-arthur-track
NOAA

Hurricane Arthur is forecasted to weaken by Friday night and become a post-tropical cyclone by Saturday.

[AP]

TIME weather

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TIME weather

East Coast Braces for Damage Amid Hurricane Warning

Weather system Arthur travels up the east coast of the United States in the Atlantic Ocean pictured on July 2, 2014.
Weather system Arthur travels up the East Coast of the U.S. on July 2, 2014 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/Getty Images

The first named storm of the hurricane season is looming over the East Coast

Correction appended, July 2, 2014

A mandatory evacuation was ordered on Hatteras Island off the North Carolina coast as Tropical Storm Arthur approached and threatened to drench much of the Eastern Seaboard.

The evacuation order, which applies to out-of-town visitors arriving for the Fourth of July weekend and residents alike, will begin at 5 a.m. on Thursday. A state of emergency was declared in the rest of Dare County and 24 other counties along the coast.

Tropical Storm Arthur, which is expected to become a hurricane by Thursday, was about 220 miles south of Charleston in the early evening on Wednesday and heading north parallel to the southeastern U.S. coast. The current forecast indicates that the storm, the first named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, won’t make landfall in the U.S. and will weaken by early Saturday.

But with sustained winds of 60 m.p.h. and heavy rainfall, it has prompted hurricane warnings across the East Coast. The Boston Pops’ traditional July 4 concert and fireworks display was pushed from Friday to Thursday because of the severe weather threat. Coastal flooding is possible from Virginia to Cape Cod, according to AccuWeather.

The storm is expected to hit North Carolina’s Outer Banks hardest, where about 250,000 people were projected to converge for the long holiday weekend, according to the Associated Press. Twice in the past few years, storms have flooded North Carolina Route 12, the main road along the islands, making it impassable.

On Wednesday, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory told residents, “Don’t put your stupid hat on,” urging potential swimmers and surfers to stay away from the water amid concerns of rip tides. “Our major goal is to ensure that no lives are lost during this upcoming storm,” he said at a news conference, according to the Associated Press.

Correction: The previous version of this article misstated that Hatteras Island is located off the South Carolina coast. It is located off the North Carolina coast.

Correction: The previous version of this article misstated that Route 12 is in South Carolina. It is in North Carolina.

TIME weather

Here’s What Tropical Storm Arthur Looks Like From Space

Weather system Arthur travels up the east coast of the United States in the Atlantic Ocean seen from the GOES-Wast satellite on July 2, 2014.
Weather system Arthur travels up the east coast of the United States in the Atlantic Ocean seen from the GOES-Wast satellite on July 2, 2014. NOAA/Getty Images

Get a sneak peek at America's birthday surprise

Forecasters predict that Tropical Storm Arthur will make landfall in the United States on the evening before Independence Day, starting in North Carolina and climbing north along the eastern seaboard. Satellites captured this image of the storm off the Florida coast, brewing up a potentially nasty surprise for the nation’s birthday.

TIME weather

First Hurricane of the Season Could Ruin Your 4th of July Plans

Happy Birthday, America

Well here’s a birthday present America can do without. A tropical depression that formed off the coast of Florida Monday night could become the season’s very first hurricane … and it could move north along the East Coast just in time for the 4th of July, raining on literal parades in its wake.

According to the National Hurricane Center, the depression is expected to become a tropical storm — named Arthur —Tuesday. AccuWeather predicts that the conditions will be at its worst on Thursday into Friday around Delmarva and New Jersey. Independence Day hotspots Long Island and Cape Cod will experience the most bad weather during the day Friday and into the evening.

“The system, which is forecast to attain tropical storm status and could become a hurricane, will hug the coast and could even make landfall in North Carolina before turning out to the Northeast late in the week,” AccuWeather’s Dan Kottlowski said.

Although if the storm does move northeast as predicted, firework conditions could improve from Washington D.C. to Philadelphia and New York City.

This has been a week of bad weather. Severe storms swept across the Midwest to the Great lakes Monday, resulting in strong winds, reported tornadoes, heavy rain, several injuries, and two deaths.

 

TIME Environment

Watch: NASA Says U.S. Air Pollution Has Plummeted

The air we breathe is a bit better, new images show

Striking new images released by NASA this week show significant reductions in air pollution levels across the United States. In particular, at least one pollutant, nitrogen dioxide, has decreased substantially over the past decade.

After ten years in orbit, the Ozone Monitoring Instrument (OMI) on NASA’s Aura satellite showed that the decrease is particularly prominent in the Northeast, the Ohio River Valley, and other major cities. For example, NASA reported a 32% decrease in New York City and a 42% decrease in Atlanta between the periods of 2005-2007 and 2009-2011.

Air pollution decreased even though population and the number of cars on the roads have increased, and the shift can be explained as a result of better regulations, technological improvements and economic shifts, scientists said.

“While our air quality has certainly improved over the last few decades, there is still work to do – ozone and particulate matter are still problems,” said Bryan Duncan, an atmospheric scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

 

 

TIME weather

Prepare for El Niño, UN Weather Agency Warns

United Nations weather agency tells governments to brace for the weather event, and the devastating droughts and floods it brings

There’s a real risk that weather event El Niño will occur before the year’s end, the U.N.’s weather agency has said.

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) issued a statement saying there’s a 60% chance of El Niño occurring between June and August. This likelihood increases to 75-80% from October to December.

Many governments have already begun preparing for El Niño’s arrival, which can be devastating. The event starts as a body of warm water developing in the central and eastern Pacific Ocean. The water then flows towards the western coast of South America setting off a chain of weather events globally.

El Niño can result in droughts or floods in particular regions and usually has the overall effect of raising global temperatures, on top of man-made global warming. WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud commented: “We remain vulnerable to this force of nature but we can protect ourselves by being better prepared.”

Many governments are believed to have begun planning for El Niño. India is expected to experience weaker monsoons whilst Australia may suffer terrible droughts. South America, by contrast, usually falls victim to widespread floods.

Experts believe that the Pacific, which has already warmed to weak El Niño levels, will continue to increase in temperature over the coming months, peaking during the last quarter of 2014 and dissipating after the first few months of 2015.

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