Tropical Storm Arthur strengthens off Florida

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Tropical Storm Arthur strengthens off Florida

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MIAMI (AP) - With the July Fourth weekend on the horizon, the Atlantic hurricane season's first named storm gradually gained strength off Florida's coast on Tuesday, though Arthur wasn't yet spooking too many travelers 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 Georgia city's tourism bureau.

Tropical Storm Arthur was swirling about 90 miles off the coast of Cape Canaveral on the central Florida coast, with forecasters expecting it to move toward the northern part of the state going into Wednesday. Its maximum sustained winds were about 40 mph (65 kph), and it was moving about 5 mph (7 kph), according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami. Tracking maps showed that it could move toward the Carolinas by Thursday.

On North Carolina's Outer Banks, the motel Shutters on the Banks is completely booked for the holiday weekend, general manager John Zeller said, despite National Weather Service forecasts for potentially heavy rain, gusty winds and isolated tornadoes late Thursday and Friday.

"We have received some cancellations but not too many," he said. "Basically we are telling people to kind of wait and see what happens. We're a little too far out at this point. I think everybody is kind of watching the weather."

He said the motel has a 72-hour advance notice on cancellations but will waive it if the storm's track head toward the area or warnings are issued.

In Folly Beach, South Carolina, dozens of people fished from the pier under sunny skies Tuesday. Others surfed on the gentle swells, sunbathed and looked for shells.

A tropical storm watch was in effect for Florida's east coast, from Fort Pierce to Flagler Beach. In Daytona Beach, red flags flew on lifeguard stands to warn swimmers of hazardous conditions. By mid-day, 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, a spokeswoman for the Volusia County Beach Patrol.

There were no immediate warnings for other states, but forecasters started to warn of rain, heavy surf and swells, and potential rip tides.

In Savannah, rooms in the downtown historic district were expected to be at least 80 percent full for the Fourth of July weekend, when crowds back the beach on neighboring Tybee Island. Hotel managers and vacation rental owners were watching forecasts, hoping the storm will stay off Georgia's 100-mile coastline.

Cancellations aren't when storms approach, but those calls weren't coming in Tuesday afternoon, Marinelli said.

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