Tropical Storm Ana Lashes Carolinas As Atlantic Hurricane Begins Early

(Recasts with quotes and latest storm advisory)

By Harriet McLeod

CHARLESTON, S.C., May 9 (Reuters) - Emergency officials warned of dangerous rip currents and surf shops enjoyed brisk sales as Tropical Storm Ana continued its slow trek on Saturday toward the Carolinas, getting the Atlantic hurricane season off to an earlier-than-usual start.

Ana is the year's first named storm in a season that typically runs from June 1 to Nov. 30. The storm was packing maximum sustained winds near 60 miles per hour (95 km/h) as it swirled about 85 miles (135 km) southeast of the golfing and beach resort of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, the Miami-based National Hurricane Center said.

Its center was forecast to be "very near" the coasts of North Carolina and South Carolina by Sunday morning, according to the weather agency.

Some effects were already being felt Saturday afternoon with rain and high wind gusts along the coast.

That wasn't keeping people away from Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, where surf shop owner Jeff DeGroote said he had seen a big spike in surfboard sales ahead of the expected storm swell.

"It's been really busy the past two or three days," he said. "There's plenty of people down here at the beach."

Tropical storm warnings were in effect for areas along a 275-mile (443 km) swath from South Santee River in South Carolina to Cape Lookout in North Carolina, at the southern end of the Outer Banks.

Ana was moving northwest at 3 mph (6 km/h) and was predicted to begin weakening as it reached cooler waters near the coastline overnight, the hurricane center said.

The weather agency said the storm would bring one to five inches of rain (2.5-12.7cm) and the storm surge could bring flooding of up to two feet (61 cm) in some coastal areas.

Emergency management officials and forecasters urged beachgoers and boaters to be cautious of strong rip currents.

The city of North Myrtle Beach was not allowing ocean swimming Saturday afternoon due to hazardous and deteriorating conditions, according to a Facebook post.

"It's going to be some dangerous surf and some rain," said Derrec Becker, spokesman for the South Carolina Emergency Management Division. "If a lot of rain comes very quickly at high tide, there can be flash floods."

Ana's formation is the earliest appearance of a named storm in the Atlantic since a previous incarnation of Subtropical Storm Ana on April 20, 2003, said Jeff Masters, chief meteorologist for Weather Underground, a commercial weather service.

(Reporting by Harriet McLeod; Additional reporting and writing by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Toby Chopra and Christian Plumb)



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