Subtropical Storm Beryl: Dixie beachgoers batten down for big Memorial Day soak

It’s not the way Memorial Day event organizers from South Carolina to Florida wanted the unofficial summer kickoff to go, with Subtropical Storm Beryl bearing down, threatening beach barbecues, but sparing the big NASCAR race.

Subtropical Storm Beryl along the South Carolina Georgia coastlines. Tropical storm warnings have been issued for the Southeast coast from north Florida to South Carolina as a cluster of thunderstorms gathered strength Friday night and was expected to become Tropical Storm Beryl over the Memorial Day weekend.

Marking the first time in a century where two named storms have formed before the start of hurricane season on June 1, Subtropical Storm Beryl took aim at the ribbon of barrier islands along the Southeast as the Memorial Day holiday got underway, threatening to temper, if not squelch, the symbolic start of the American summer for tens of thousands of Southerners.

As of 11 a.m. Saturday, Beryl, as expected, switched to a southwesterly path, putting landfall of its central mass somewhere close to the Georgia-Florida border. The National Weather Service advised that the stretch from the Volusia-Brevard county line in Florida to Edisto Beach, in South Carolina, is under a tropical storm warning, meaning that storm conditions are imminent within 36 hours.

With 45 mile-per-hour sustained winds, Beryl, which organized overnight Saturday into a named phenomenon, is no monster storm, but is beefier than Alberto, which formed a week ago almost on the same patch of Atlantic where Beryl originated.

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Hurricane watchers say Beryl will bring rain, strong high tides, and cloudy skies to a wide swath of the coastal South, where hundreds of thousands Southerners flock to celebrate Memorial Day and unofficially kick off summer every year.

The difference between a tropical and subtropical storm has nothing to do with wind speed, but whether thunderstorms cluster at its center (a tropical storm) versus a more spread-out pattern (subtropical), as in the case of Beryl.

The storm is expected to hit hardest south of Charleston, across Georgia’s Golden Isles, and onto Florida’s Atlantic beaches, and is expected to stall over the area before pushing back offshore on Monday. What remains could later in the week move up the Atlantic coast, past North Carolina’s storm-prone Outer Banks.

While Beryl may dampen the mood for annual beach pilgrims, East Coast surfers are waxing their boards.

“The cut-off line between Beryl's bad weather will be quite sharp – generally speaking, along Interstate 95,” says weather watcher Steve Lyttle, who blogs as The Weather Guy. “Areas east of I-95 will see mostly cloudy skies this weekend, with a good chance of rain. West of I-95, there'll be mostly sunny skies and just a few showers.”

The biggest planned Memorial Day event close to Beryl’s impact zone is Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 NASCAR race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, where 150,000 fans are expected to turn up to watch racers like Dale Earnhardt, Jr., try to win the flag. As Beryl took aim on Saturday, meteorologists said the race will likely be unaffected, and might even benefit: The storm is likely to cause localized cooling for fans as much of the rest of the nation faces a Memorial Day heat wave.

More affected are the dozens of Memorial Day weekend fishing tournaments up and down the Southern coast, including the annual Fripp Island, S.C., tournament, which was scrapped Saturday because of the approaching storm.

Beryl is one of two storms being watched by the National Hurricane Center in Miami. A weakened Pacific cyclone, now tropical storm Bud, still threatened the tourist beaches of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, on Saturday. A third, unnamed storm battered parts of Cuba and the Bahamas on Friday. Cuban authorities reported two people, including a French citizen, being swept away by rain-flooded rivers.

As for Beryl, those planning to travel to beaches in South Carolina, Georgia, and north Florida can expect rain showers to step up on Saturday and continue into Sunday and Monday. Winds will push in from the northeast at up to 30 miles per hour, with occasional gusts even stronger. Surf will be gnarly, and rip currents will be running pretty good.

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