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Tropical Storm Arthur strengthens off Florida

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 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.

A tropical storm watch was in effect for a swath of Florida’s east coast, and the National Hurricane Center in Miami urged those as far north as parts of Virginia to monitor Arthur’s path.

A day at the beach in Miami Beach, Fla., Tuesday, July 1, 2014. Tropical Storm Arthur has formed off the central Florida coast, becoming the first named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)

On Tuesday afternoon, the storm swirled about 90 miles off the coast of Cape Canaveral, moving about 5 mph (7kph) with maximum sustained winds about 40 mph (65 kph).

Off Florida’s Space Coast beaches – the closest to Arthur – the sky was cloudy and winds fairly normal, said Eisen Witcher, assistant chief of Brevard County Ocean Rescue.

Red flags warned of rough surf, and beachgoers were advised to get into the water only in areas with manned lifeguard stands. But overall, Witcher said, “it’s business as usual.”

Red flags also flew at Daytona Beach. 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, spokeswoman for the Volusia County Beach Patrol.

There were no official warnings for other states, but forecasters started to warn of rain, heavy surf and swells, and potential rip tides. The hurricane center urged those all the way north to parts of Virginia to monitor Arthur’s progress.

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.

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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