As Americans prepared to celebrate the nation’s 238th birthday, Hurricane Arthur forced several East Coast cities to switch the dates of their Fourth of July shows, and officials in the drought-stricken West urged caution in setting off fireworks.
Boston officials moved the annual Boston Pops July 4 concert and fireworks from today to Thursday because of potentially heavy rain.
On Boston’s Esplanade along the Charles River, there were few hints of the gathering storm. Temperatures were in the 90s in the early evening, and many thousands of concert- goers gathered to hear the Beach Boys and Broadway star Megan Hilty.
Augusta, Maine, moved its fireworks display to Aug. 2 to coincide with an annual festival, while several New Hampshire cities moved their fireworks shows to either Saturday or Sunday. In New Jersey, Atlantic City and Ocean City moved their fireworks to Sunday.
In New York City, the annual Macy’s fireworks show will be back on the East River after five years on the Hudson River. A spokesman said the show, the largest Fourth of July fireworks display in the nation, will go on no matter today’s weather.
Another New York tradition is the Nathan’s hot-dog-eating contest at Coney Island, where champion Joey Chestnut, who ate 69 wieners and buns in 10 minutes last year, will defend his title today.
In Oklahoma, the city of Pauls Valley has its own July 4 food competition: a watermelon seed-spitting contest. The record, set in 1989, is 66 feet, 11 inches.
Throughout parts of the drought-stricken West, fire officials are warning residents to take precautions when lighting fireworks. Hot and windy weather can make for dangerous conditions, and fireworks have been banned in large swaths of forested areas over concerns they could spark wildfires.
On Thursday, a trailer loaded with fireworks exploded near a high school in Comache, Texas, killing one person and injuring three others setting up for a Fourth of July show, authorities said. The town canceled the show, which is one of the largest in the region and typically draws 15,000 people.
In Philadelphia, where the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776, officials moved a Thursday night pops-orchestra concert indoors because of rain, but said the annual holiday concert featuring the Roots and fireworks display would go on today regardless of rain.
In Washington, D.C., composer John Williams was set to debut a new arrangement of “The Star-Spangled Banner” featuring choirs, trumpets, an orchestra and cannons on the National Mall today.
This year marks the anthem’s 200th anniversary. It was in September 1814 when Francis Scott Key was inspired by the sight of the flag over Baltimore’s Fort McHenry after a 25-hour British bombardment.
Meanwhile, a strengthening Hurricane Arthur forced thousands of vacationers on the North Carolina coast to abandon their Independence Day plans.
Arthur strengthened to a Category 2 hurricane Thursday night, with winds of 100 mph as the storm neared North Carolina. Little change was expected in the storm’s strength Thursday night and today, and Arthur was expected to weaken as it travels northward and slings rain along the East Coast.
Either later Thursday or early today, Arthur was expected to pass over or near North Carolina and its Outer Banks — a 200-mile string of narrow barrier islands with about 57,000 permanent residents.
“We don’t know for sure if the exact center of Arthur is going to pass over land or not. The chances have been increasing for that to occur with the last couple of forecasts. But even if the exact center doesn’t go over you, you will experience impacts tonight. The weather is going downhill in North Carolina, even as we speak,” said Rick Knabb, the director of the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami.
The islands are susceptible to high winds, rough seas and road-clogging sands, prompting an exodus that began Wednesday night.
Many island residents, meanwhile, decided to ride out the powerful storm rather than risk losing access to homes connected to the mainland by a highway prone to washouts.
“All the people that I know who live here are staying put,” said Mike Rabe, who planned to stay in his Rodanthe home despite an evacuation order for surrounding Hatteras Island.
The departures of vacationers left things “pretty dead” on Hatteras Island during the normally bustling run-up to the Independence Day weekend, Rabe said. He spent Thursday running errands and helping neighbors prepare their homes for the storm.
Before the storm hit, tourism officials had expected 250,000 people to travel to the Outer Banks for the holiday weekend. Gov. Pat McCrory sought to strike a balance between a stern warning to vacationers and optimism that part of the busy weekend could be salvaged.
“Of course, this holiday weekend, the July Fourth weekend, is one of the biggest weekends for coastal tourism in the state, and we anticipate a beautiful weekend after the Tropical Storm Arthur or the Hurricane Arthur is out of North Carolina,” he said.
Arthur, the first named storm of the Atlantic season, prompted a hurricane warning for much of the North Carolina coast. On the Outer Banks’ Ocracoke Island, accessible only by ferry, a voluntary evacuation was underway. Officials said ferry service would end at 5 p.m.
Tropical-storm warnings were also in effect for coastal areas in South Carolina and Virginia and as far north as Cape Cod, Mass.
If Arthur makes landfall in the U.S. today, it would be the first hurricane to do so on July Fourth, according to National Hurricane Center research that goes back to the 1850s.