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Tropical storm warning issued for Mass. coastline

A tropical storm warning was issued for the Massachusetts coast Saturday as waves from Hurricane Bill pounded Bermuda and people from Florida to New England braced for high surf and rip currents from the storm.
/ Source: WHDH-TV

A tropical storm warning was issued for the Massachusetts coast Saturday as waves from Hurricane Bill pounded Bermuda and people from Florida to New England braced for high surf and rip currents from the storm.

Bill continued to swirl over the open waters of the Atlantic as a Category 2 storm with maximum sustained winds of 105 mph (165 kph). The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said it could regain intensity over the weekend as its center passes between Bermuda and the eastern U.S. seaboard.

The tropical storm warning included Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard off the Massachusetts coast, meaning tropical storm-force winds of 40 mph (64 kph) or more could hit in the next 24 hours. A tropical storm watch also remained in effect for Bermuda, though a hurricane watch was canceled.

Tourists gathered at Bermuda's pink sand beaches Friday to watch the powerful surf. Many shrugged off the threat of the approaching storm, but it apparently cut short a beachfront vacation for U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton.

On the U.S. East Coast, offshore waves of 20 feet (6 meters) or more and rip currents at the beach are expected over one of the summer's last weekends. Forecasters warned boaters and swimmers from northeastern Florida to New England of incoming swells, as Bill passes far out to sea on a northward track toward Canada's Maritime Provinces. Forecasters said tropical storm watches or warnings could be issued Saturday for Nova Scotia and Newfoundland in Canada.

By Friday night, the streets of Bermuda's capital were mostly empty and blanketed with rain. Luxury boutiques boarded up their windows. At the bar of the Fairmont Hamilton Princess hotel, a few guests sampled the "Dark 'n Stormy" cocktail as Bill's outer bands raked the island.

Most islanders hunkered down in their homes. Amanda Walker, a 31-year-old waitress originally from Toronto, said she and her boyfriend had to track down her cat, Mira, before the winds got any stronger.

"We just need to lock ourselves in and hope for the best," she said.

Some roads along Bermuda's northern coast were flooded and traffic was heavy in Hamilton, the capital. The airport, which is accessible only by a low causeway bridge, announced it was closing Friday for the duration of the storm. All ferry service was canceled until Sunday.

Bill was forecast to bring 1 to 2 inches (2.5 to 5 centimeters) of rain to Bermuda, with up to 5 inches (13 centimeters) in some areas.

Much of Bermuda, a wealthy offshore financial center, is solidly built and able to withstand rough weather. But storm tides were expected to raise water levels up to 3 feet (1 meter) along the shores and battering waves could cause significant erosion.

Despite warning signs at Bermuda's beaches, tourists gathered to watch waves pummel the sand and wash up to the dunes at Horseshoe Bay.

"We've never experienced a hurricane before, so it's very interesting. The children are loving it," said Kevin James, 54, a pharmaceutical company executive from London, who watched with his wife and two young children.

Other tourists flew out before the storm bore down. State Department spokesman Ian Kelly told reporters the Clintons left Bermuda on Thursday night.

In the U.S., North Carolina expected flooding and beach erosion on the Outer Banks this weekend. Bill could cause water levels to rise 3 to 4 feet (0.9 to 1.2 meters) above normal and the ocean could spill over roads, the National Weather Service said.

Emergency managers in New England warned boaters, swimmers and surfers to take added precautions as waves are expected to swell to 35 feet (10.5 meters) off the coast.

The Three Belles Marina in Niantic, Conn., was securing boats and dragging in docks in anticipation of high waters, said Gary Julian, a customer service manager.

Waves of up to 20 feet (6 meters) are possible south of Martha's Vineyard and Block Island and east of Cape Cod, and up to 35 feet (10.5 meters) on portions of the prime fishing area of Georges Bank, the weather service said.

President Barack Obama and his family plan to travel to Martha's Vineyard on Sunday for vacation.

The center's five-day track showed Bill staying well out to sea off the U.S. coast and inching closer to land off Canada's Maritime provinces before veering back out into the North Atlantic.

On Saturday morning, the storm was centered about 220 miles (355 kilometers) west-northwest of Bermuda, or about 575 miles (925 kilometers) south of Nantucket, Massachusetts, and was moving north-northwest at 22 mph (35 kph).

Bill is the first Atlantic hurricane this year after a quiet start to the season that runs from June through November. The Miami center lowered its Atlantic hurricane outlook on Aug. 6 after no named tropical storms developed in the first two months.

The revised prediction was for three to six hurricanes, with one or two becoming major storms with winds over 110 mph. Researchers at Colorado State University have also lowered their Atlantic season forecast to four hurricanes, two of them major.

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)