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A satellite image shows a Category 4 Hurricane Earl barreling toward the U.S. coast early yesterday.
By KELLY HANNON
Hurricane Earl may never reach Virginia, apart from stirring up strong winds, rough surf and rip currents. But the powerful Category 4 storm is causing uncertainty for anyone traveling over Labor Day weekend.
The three-day holiday was expected to a mini-boom for the tourism industry.
Before news of Hurricane Earl's potential to skim the East Coast was known, AAA Mid-Atlantic predicted Labor Day travel in Virginia would increase 9 percent over last Labor Day, and 10 percent nationwide. The average traveler was expected to spend $697.
"This is generally the holiday when a lot of people head to the beach for the last hurrah of summer, sun and fun, and if the storm does indeed move further inland, that could impact those vacations and may cause some people to cancel," said AAA Mid-Atlantic spokeswoman Martha M. Meade.
As recently as yesterday evening, Hurricane Earl was forecast to remain off the coast of eastern Virginia tomorrow and Friday.
In North Carolina, Hurricane Earl would have a "close approach" to Cape Hatteras tomorrow and tomorrow evening, National Hurricane Center Director Bill Read said. Still, federal and state emergency planners want the public to pay attention to the storm.
Federal Emergency Management Administrator Craig Fugate acknowledged the holiday weekend as he spoke to reporters in a conference call yesterday.
He advised families in its potential path to stock up on disaster supplies now and decide on a plan, such as where their family will go
"We do not have a forecasted landfall, but this is a very large system. We do expect impacts along the coast," Fugate said.
The state Department of Emergency Management has posted maps on its website, vdem.state.va.us, that show coastal areas that might need to be evacuated, depending on the strength of hurricane, and the routes evacuees should take.
Virginia's Hampton Roads area and Eastern Shore is in the "cone of error" for Hurricane Earl, state Emergency Management spokesman Bob Spieldenner said.
"Right now it's forecast to miss us, but it's awfully close," Spieldenner said.
FEMA has teams ready to deploy to states from Virginia to Maine, and already has an official coordinating with North Carolina.
"We want to have people ready to go at each of the states if there's a request," Fugate said.
Based on yesterday's forecast, the Fredericksburg area is not expected to see rain or tropical force winds from Hurricane Earl.
The National Weather Service forecasts sunny skies with temperatures in the low 90s tomorrow and Friday, and sunny or clear skies and temperatures in the mid-80s Saturday and Sunday.
For the 929,500 Virginians planning to travel farther than 50 miles from home over Labor Day weekend, AAA Mid-Atlantic recommends checking the rules and regulations of vacation cancellation policies, so travelers can make an informed choice, Meade said.
"Making contact with your travel vendor or the home you've rented is a very good idea at this point," Meade said.
Expect the roads to be crowded, hurricane or not, as 91 percent of Labor Day vacationers are driving to their destination this year.
"That's much higher than we generally see for any holiday," Meade said.
Airfare prices are averaging $179 per round trip this Labor Day weekend, a 9 percent increase in fare prices from Labor Day 2009, according to AAA Mid-Atlantic.
Hotel room rate costs are averaging $139 a night, up 6 percent and rental car rates are $49 for a weekend rental on average, also up 7 percent, according to AAA.
Kelly Hannon: 540/374-5436