Hurricane Edouard's approach is likely to kick up dangerous surf, high tides and coastal flooding at the beaches this Labor Day weekend. The National Weather Service has begun to urge the expected crowds of holiday boaters and beachgoers to be careful.
Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center also said yesterday that chances were growing that the storm would lose its steering currents in the coming days and become "extremely unpredictable."
"Since it can do almost anything, we could have the whole eastern seaboard under the gun from a big hurricane, with tons of people at beaches," said meteorologist Mike Hopkins. "This is developing into the worst-case scenario at this point."
The powerful storm was said to be strengthening, with top sustained winds of 140 mph late yesterday. It was expected to be just southeast of Cape Hatteras, N.C., by Sunday afternoon.
"Even if the hurricane does not make landfall, seas and surf will be increasing along the New Jersey and Delaware coasts over the weekend," the weather service said.
Swimmers are advised to enter the water "only in protected areas where there are lifeguards on duty." Boaters are cautioned to monitor marine forecasts.
Edouard's central barometric pressure -- a measure of its strength and intensity -- dropped below 28 inches of mercury yesterday. That placed it on a par with Hurricane Betsy -- the 25th most-powerful hurricane to strike the United States this century -- which came ashore in Florida and Louisiana in 1965, killing 75 people.
Forecasters at the hurricane center were watching a trough of low pressure over the Eastern United States. The low has been expected to block the hurricane from tracking straight northwest into the U.S. mainland, pushing it instead more to the north.
"We've seen that start to happen," Hopkins said. "The problem ** seems to be that this trough is forecast to keep on going east."
That would leave Edouard with no strong steering currents by late in the weekend, and likely to to meander unpredictably off the Middle Atlantic coast, much as Hurricane Felix did last year.
Felix "did loops and drove everybody crazy," Hopkins said. "The difference is that Edouard would be closer to the coast than Felix was."
If that forecast is correct, he said, "we could have a hurricane spinning off Cape Hatteras with nothing to make it go anywhere." It could spin west to Wilmington, N.C, northwest to Cape Hatteras and Norfolk, Va., or north to New York City.
That would pose a threat to the holiday plans and the safety of millions of residents and vacationers from the Carolinas to Massachusetts on one of the biggest holiday weekends of the summer.
Pub Date: 8/30/96