Aug 31, 10:18 AM EDT

Tropical weather system spares North Carolina's Outer Banks


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RODANTHE, N.C. (AP) -- North Carolina's Outer Banks have been spared from a tropical storm system that has been moving toward the state for two days, an official said Wednesday.

Dare County Emergency Management Director Drew Pearson write in an email that the tropical depression resulted in "no impacts" on coastal areas such as Cape Hatteras.

A hotel manager on Ocracoke Island says residents and tourists experienced less than an inch of rain. Byron Miller, manager of The Ocracoke Harbor Inn, said in a telephone interview that "it's just a normal day."

Early forecasts had indicated the system could drench the state with up to 5 inches of rain before it curved out to sea.

The National Weather Service said early Wednesday morning that the tropical depression was moving away from the state. Highest winds were still 35 mph. The system was about 75 miles east of Cape Hatteras and was moving to the northeast at 5 mph.

A tropical storm warning for the North Carolina coast was dropped Tuesday night.

Only a few clouds were reported and winds were only about 5 mph on the Outer Banks Wednesday morning.

Elsewhere, a powerful hurricane threatened to pass "dangerously close" to Hawaii, and a tropical storm warning was issued for parts of Florida's Gulf Coast because of a tropical depression in the Gulf of Mexico.

Heavy rainfall is expected across much of Florida as a tropical depression looms in the Gulf of Mexico.

In North Carolina, business owners on Ocracoke and Hatteras Islands said they've experienced a drop in foot traffic. But by late Tuesday, many tourists had decided to stay and brave the impending storm.

"Well, the sun has been shining and we've been hearing about this storm for two days," Jennifer Bange, 43, of Painted Post, New York, said Tuesday afternoon. She was about to drive onto the ferry from Hatteras Island to Ocracoke, determined to show her two sons the small island.

The depression was centered about 75 miles (120 kilometers) east-southeast of Cape Hatteras on Wednesday morning.

Coastal Carteret County emergency officials issued an advisory Tuesday saying wind problems were likely to be "mostly minor," but advised residents in case trees topple or lightweight objects are blown around.

Crowds had thinned on Outer Banks' beaches ahead of the storms. On Tuesday morning, a slow stream of dozens of cars from places including Maryland, New York and Ohio headed north toward a bridge to the mainland - but other vacationers stayed and some surfers dove in for taller waves.

Some beaches were all but empty. Near Rodanthe, a couple and their 11-year-old son had the shore to themselves for a morning stroll. Joe and Kelley Walker of Markham, Virginia, said their family plans to wait out the rain with movies or card games.

"We're not worried about the storm so much unless they say there's something to worry about," Joe Walker said.

In nearby Frisco, whipped-up waves attracted out-of-town surfers. A break in the rain before more showers were expected also brought families out at midday.

Steven Kavika, a 58-year-old surf instructor, said he relished the opportunity.

"I saw it coming in last week and kind of made a prediction of what day would be best to come down," said Kavika, who drove down with a friend from Virginia Beach, Virginia.

At the same time, a tropical depression in the Gulf of Mexico prompted the U.S. National Hurricane Center to issue a tropical storm warning and a hurricane watch for areas of Florida's Gulf coast. The tropical storm warning, issued Wednesday morning, covers an area from Anclote River to the Walton County-Bay County line.

Forecasters say they expect that system to turn to the northeast toward Florida and become a tropical storm sometime Wednesday. That depression was about 420 miles (675 kilometers) west-southwest of Tampa, Florida, early Wednesday and was moving north near 2 mph (4 kph).

Heavy rainfall was expected across much of Florida. Eric Blake of the National Hurricane Center said Wednesday morning that the system will likely dump around 5 inches of rain on areas of central and north Florida as it approaches the state Thursday. Some areas could see up to 15 inches of rain.

Lonka, of the National Weather Service, said the storm in the Gulf was forecast to move across northern Florida later this week toward the Atlantic. But he said it's likely to stay south of North Carolina. Still, he cautioned its path was difficult to predict days in advance.

At Ride The Wind Surf Shop on Ocracoke Island, owner Bob Chestnut said he canceled all of his kayak tours and other rentals for Tuesday because he was concerned about the wind. Foot traffic was sparse.

"The amount of day-trippers has been pretty minimal because I think people were worried they'd get down here and not be able to get back," he said by phone, referring to people who take a ferry to the island on the southern stretch of the Outer Banks.

Byron Miller, manager of The Ocracoke Harbor Inn, said one person canceled because of the forecast, and business is a little slower than usual.

Thousands of miles away, residents of Hawaii's Big Island were bracing for what could be the first Pacific hurricane to make landfall in that state in decades.

Forecasters said Hurricane Madeline weakened to a Category 1 storm Tuesday night. The forecaster said any shift in the storm's forecast track could mean it would hit land.

Meteorologist Chevy Chevalier said the last hurricane to make landfall in Hawaii was Hurricane Iniki in 1992, which hit Kauai Island.

A second Pacific hurricane called Lester is still far from Hawaii.

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Drew reported from Durham, North Carolina. Associated Press writers Jack Jones contributed to this report from Columbia, S.C., and Freida Frisaro from Miami.

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An earlier version of this report incorrectly said the tropical depression began moving away from North Carolina's coast Thursday night. It happened Tuesday night.

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