At 11 p.m. Friday, the National Hurricane Center upgraded a low-pressure system off the Carolina coast to the season's second tropical storm, and it appears headed toward northeast Florida and southeast Georgia just in time for the holiday weekend.
Subtropical Storm Beryl had 45 mph sustained winds at 11 p.m. and was about 300 miles east of Charleston, S.C., or 416 miles northeast of Mayport It was moving north at 9 mph, but was forecast to begin moving to the southwest or west-southwest on Saturday.
Because the storm could make landfall within 48 hours, a tropical storm warning was issued for the coast from Volusia County north to Edisto Beach, S.C. Several of the forecast models show the storm could head right toward northeast Florida.
Channel 4's chief meteorologist John Gaughan says the storm probably won't be a major wind event for the greater Jacksonville area, but could bring substantial rainfall to the area between Sunday and the middle of next week.
"There's been some development of a storm system. It's a weak one right now, but it's over some warm water," Gaughan said. "The potential will be for very heavy rains, but it could mostly sunny conditions just a few miles away -- very changeable conditions."
Beryl became the second tropical storm to form before the June 1 official beginning of the Atlantic hurricane season, and both formed off the coast of the Carolinas.
"The northeast winds on the eastern side of the large high pressure dome centered over the Mississippi Valley could push the storm to our area around Memorial Day," Channel 4 hurricane expert George Winterling wrote on his Eye on the Storm blog.
Emergency managers in Jacksonville and St. Johns County were closely monitoring the system, briefing city and county officials and are prepared to gear up operations if needed the holiday weekend.
"Now's a good time to be trimming those tree limbs back. if you've got any loose debris, pick it up," said Jacksonville Fire-Rescue Chief Marty Senterfitt. "Make sure that you've got a family plan, that you have a hurricane kit ready, and start watching the tropics."
Anticipaing elevated surf and riptides, St. Johns County is ramping up lifeguard patrols of area beaches between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. through the weekend and on Monday. Lifeguards were also prepared to staff Jacksonville, Neptune and Atlantic Beaches.
Heavy rainfall and flooding and gusty winds from this system have already fallen over South Florida, the Florida Keys, portions of Cuba, the Cayman Islands and the Bahamas.