Hurricane Earl, a large and powerful storm, remains on track to impact the national parks of North Carolina's Outer Banks region. The three national parks in the storm's crosshairs Cape Lookout National Seashore, Cape Hatteras National Seashore, and Wright Brothers National Memorial -- will continue to implement emergency plans for protecting people and property. Visitor evacuations are underway, facilities are being closed on a staggered schedule, and by 5:00 p.m. today the Outer Banks parks will be closed until further notice.
At nearby Roanoke Island, Fort Raleigh National Historic Site occupies a relatively protected location and has no seashore beaches. Emergency managers do not anticipate serious impacts there, but the park's visitor center will close at 5:00 p.m. today.
The post-storm assessments for the Outer Banks parks is scheduled for Friday, depending on the timing of the storm's arrival and its duration. Until the parks are re-opened, the seashore beaches are presumed to be unsafe for recreational use due to rough surf, dangerous rip currents, and ocean overwash. Off-road vehicle use is temporarily prohibited in the parks until conditions are once again deemed safe for ORV activity.
At 8:00 a.m. EDT, Hurricane Earl was located at 24.5 N 71.6 W (780 miles SSE of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina) and moving NW (310 degrees) at about 16 miles per hour. Bearing maximum sustained winds of 125 mph, and generating hurricane-force winds across a zone several hundred miles wide, the Category 3 storm is fluctuating in intensity (which is quite normal) and can be expected to attain Category 4 strength at times. This is a serious storm by any reasonable measure
Forecasters are confident that Earl's track, which has shifted westward a bit during the past few days, will bring it close to the Outer Banks and then northeastward along the Atlantic Coast before it eventually moves away from the mainland. However, they can't know exactly what path the storm will take over the next few days. Much depends on the storm's location relative to a trough of low pressure lying to the west. Where Earl will go, how strong it may become, and how heavily it will impact the Atlantic Coast depends a good deal on the trough's position as the hurricane nears the mainland.
The storm's effects will be apparent in the Outer Banks parks today, but won't reach their maximum extent until late Thursday.
Hurricanes are a familiar feature of Outer Banks weather. On average, the region gets brushed by a powerful storm every two or three years and takes a direct hit every seven or eight years. In July 2008, Hurricane Cristobal brought winds of 50 mph to the region.
Emergency planners at Gateway National Recreation Area in New York/New Jersey and Cape Cod National Seashore in Massachusetts are watching this storm with growing concern. The 5-day forecast cone and estimates of associated maximum windspeeds strongly suggest that these parks, and perhaps those in the Mid-Atlantic, may be in for a rough patch by Friday.