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Environment

Tropical Storm Gabrielle hits North Carolina

RALEIGH, North Carolina (Reuters) - Tropical Storm Gabrielle buffeted the North Carolina coast on Sunday with gusty winds and some rain but weakened as it began turning back to head out over the Atlantic Ocean, U.S. forecasters said.

A Satellite image shows Tropical Storm Gabrielle on Sunday Sept. 9, 2007. Tropical Storm Gabrielle buffeted the North Carolina coast on Sunday but was expected to turn back out over the Atlantic Ocean without strengthening into a hurricane, U.S. forecasters said. REUTERS/ NOAA

The blustery core of the storm came ashore along the Cape Lookout National Seashore shortly before noon, kicking up the surf and sand and bringing scattered showers to the barrier islands known as the Outer Banks, forecasters at the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

The seventh named storm of the 2007 Atlantic hurricane season, Gabrielle’s top sustained winds had slipped to 45 miles per hour (75 kph) by 8 p.m. (0000 GMT). It was about 8 miles

west of Kill Devil Hills in North Carolina.

The storm was moving toward the north-northeast at 12 mph (19 kph) and was expected to turn to the northeast.

“On this track the center will be moving back over the Atlantic waters in a few hours,” the hurricane center said.

Beachgoers in the Nags Head area enjoyed a sunny but breezy afternoon.

“The ocean is rough, but people are on the beach and there are surfers in the water,” said Dare County Public Information Officer Dorothy Toolan in Manteo.

The winds whipped up toward nightfall and the state ferry service between Hatteras Inlet and Ocracoke Island was shut down in the late afternoon because of the conditions.

“I was amazed that the sun was out in Ocracoke Village, yet due to rain and blowing sand on the north end, visibility was less than one-fifth of a mile and winds were much fiercer,” said Tony Spencer, Hyde County emergency management coordinator, in an e-mail.

Ferry service was also halted between Ocracoke Island and the mainland as the winds notched up, said Danny Styron, operations manager for the North Carolina Ferry Division at Ocracoke.

The storm did not keep patrons away from Howard’s Pub on Ocracoke.

“People are here and having a nice time,” said pub owner Ann Warner. “It’s windy and the ocean does look a little stormy. I do see a little bit of blue sky up there.”

SEASON PEAK

Gabrielle developed on Saturday as the six-month hurricane season neared its historical peak on Monday, having already produced two of the most ferocious hurricanes ever to tear through the Caribbean, Dean and Felix.

Both those storms became maximum-strength Category 5 hurricanes before slamming into Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula and Central America, respectively.

Conditions off the U.S. East Coast, where Gabrielle formed, are not currently as favorable for tropical cyclones as the deep warm water of the western Caribbean where Dean and Felix found the fuel they needed to grow into monster storms.

The hurricane center said it was watching three other areas of disturbed weather in case they showed signs of developing into tropical cyclones -- one southwest of the Cape Verde islands, another a few hundred miles (km) east of the Lesser Antilles and the third in the southern Gulf of Mexico.

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