Warnings were issued for South Carolina's coast Friday after a weather system that could become a tropical storm formed in the Atlantic, the National Weather Service said.
Heavy rain, whipping winds and dangerous waves could hit the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida over the holiday weekend, forecasters said.
The weather system about 355 miles southeast of Charleston had winds of 35 mph and was a tropical depression Friday night, but it is expected to strengthen to a tropical storm overnight or sometime Saturday, the National Hurricane Center said. It would become a tropical storm if winds reach 39 mph.
When the weather system hits land Saturday, it is expected to bring waves upwards of 13 feet, heavy rip currents and damaging winds to Florida, Georgia, and Carolina coasts, according to Weather.com. Parts of South Carolina and North Carolina can also expect up to three inches of rain.
A tropical storm warning was in place from Little River inlet at the northern tip of South Carolina's coast to Savannah, Georgia.
A hurricane hunter aircraft detected "well defined closed circulation" Friday and it was declared a tropical cyclone, according to the National Hurricane Center. A tropical cyclone only means a rotating system of clouds and storms, and is different from a cyclone.
The storm will likely weaken by Sunday, according to the National Weather Service, but not before delivering winds that could reach 40 mph to the coast of South Carolina.
The warnings came Friday as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that the Atlantic hurricane season, which doesn't officially begin until June 1, would be "near normal," meaning about 10-16 tropical storms — half of which could become hurricanes — were expected.
"A near-normal prediction for this season suggests we could see more hurricane activity than we've seen in the last three years, which were below normal," said Gerry Bell, Ph.D., lead seasonal hurricane forecaster with NOAA's Climate Prediction Center.
The tropical storm headed for the Southeast coast isn't completely unexpected because this is the area that's most prone to early-season storms, according to Weather.com.