Coastal towns, colleges give warnings as Ana nears Carolinas

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Beach officials warned about dangerous surf, campers were told to pack up and some college seniors were forced to head inside for graduation as Tropical Storm Ana churned toward the coasts of North Carolina and South Carolina on Saturday.

Officials at beaches in both states warned residents and visitors about the approach of the storm expected to bring drenching rains, high winds and rough surf this weekend. The North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Department of Public Safety announced Saturday that no swimming in the ocean was allowed because of the weather.

In North Carolina, the town of North Topsail Beach warned residents to tie down anything that could blow away, and Carolina Beach State Park said it was closing its campground on Saturday afternoon.

New Hanover County officials warned beachgoers to use extreme caution over the weekend.

"With the elevated risk of rip currents, the best advice is to stay out of the water when the risk for rip currents is the highest and comply with any advisories given by lifeguards," said Warren Lee, Director of New Hanover County Emergency Management.

To the southwest, it rained intermittently Saturday afternoon at the Holden Beach Fishing Pier, said owner Gil Bass.

"The waves are up. The water's up," he said in a phone interview. "When it rains, I mean it pours, and the wind picks up. But it's off and on."

When the rain stopped, people were venturing out for walks on the beach or the pier.

"The wind's blowing a little hard, but they don't' seem to mind that. They're curious," he said.

Coastal universities kept a close eye on the storm as they held weekend graduation ceremonies. Coastal Carolina University in Conway, South Carolina, moved its commencement Saturday from Brooks Stadium indoors to its student recreation center as part of a weather plan.

In North Carolina, UNC Wilmington was able to hold its commencement as planned indoors but urged students and family to keep an eye on the school's webpage as they make their travel plans.

"If travel conditions change, graduates and their guests should make their own determination whether it is safe to travel," the school said in a statement on its website.

Tropical storm warnings were in effect in coastal areas of both states. Forecasters said that tropical storm wind conditions could reach the coast by late afternoon, and the center of the storm could come ashore by early Sunday. Some areas could see several inches of rain by Monday.

At the National Hurricane Center in Miami, Senior Hurricane Specialist Stacy Stewart said dangerous surf and rip tides appear to be the biggest threat posed by the Atlantic season's first tropical storm. Although the season doesn't formally start until June 1, he said such early storms aren't completely uncommon.

"We had a similar situation occur twice back in 2012 when we had two early season tropical storms, Alberto and Beryl," Stewart said of the two storms that also happened in May. "That was very unusual to get two storms before the normal start of the hurricane season; one is not that unusual."

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