The Virginian-Pilot
                             THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT 
              Copyright (c) 1996, Landmark Communications, Inc.

DATE: Saturday, August 31, 1996             TAG: 9608310368
SECTION: FRONT                   PAGE: A1   EDITION: FINAL 
                                            LENGTH:  143 lines


Stand by.

That was forecasters' advice Friday evening as a tropical storm warning and a hurricane watch were posted for the Virginia coast and Northeastern North Carolina for a likely brush with Edouard - possibly as soon as tonight or early Sunday.

``It's going to be a close call,'' said meteorologist Rich Johnson of The Weather Channel in Atlanta. ``We're not saying it's going inland. But it is going to be a very close call.''

Hopes are - and the 5 p.m. forecast Friday from the National Hurricane Center said - that the center of Edouard will pass just east of the Virginia Capes, keeping the storm's worst weather well offshore.

The hurricane watch means means hurricane conditions may reach the area within 36 hours, and some strong winds and stormy weather may run up the coastline as the storm passes. There will be plenty of rough surf, the National Weather Service said.

Trouble is, it's anyone's - or any computer's - guess where Edouard will go and when.

``Unfortunately, the track models are still in disagreement,'' said Max Mayfield of the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

The hurricane had sustained winds of 130 mph with gusts to 155 mph Friday evening.

So many variables are affecting Edouard that the center's numerous computer formulas blossom across the map. Some take the hurricane along the coast and into New Jersey by Monday, a few steer it into Long Island, and others keep it far offshore.

``There's a potential for radical change, and people have to take heed,'' said Mark Marchbank, deputy coordinator of emergency management in Virginia Beach. ``I wouldn't lower my guard.''

Jim Talbot, deputy coordinator of emergency services for Norfolk, said city officials have taken all needed preliminary steps to prepare for Edouard.

``We've reviewed all of our plans, and we're prepared to take the actions,'' he said. ``But, other than that, it's just wait-and-see.''

At 5 p.m. Friday, the center of Edouard was about 500 miles south-southeast of Cape Hatteras, moving north-northwest at 14 mph. That general motion was expected to continue through today.

Maximum sustained winds were near 130 mph, and little significant change in strength was expected.

Significant sea swells associated with the powerful storm were already building along the coast and are likely to continue through the weekend.

The Hurricane Center's forecast has the storm centered due east of Cape Hatteras by 5 a.m. Sunday. But hurricane force winds of 74 mph or greater extend up to 145 miles from the center, and tropical storm force winds of 39 mph or greater extend out up to 200 miles.

That means tropical storm winds could reach the northern Outer Banks of North Carolina by this afternoon and the Virginia Capes late tonight, said Hugh Cobb, a meteorologist at the Weather Service office in Wakefield.

``It's still a long way away, and we're not able to make a call at this point on whether the center is going to pass over the Outer Banks or not,'' said John Hope, The Weather Channel's senior meteorologist. ``It is still pretty well formed. We don't see anything there so far that we would interpret as any weakening.''

Having a hurricane as powerful as Edouard passing so close poses all sorts of dilemmas for emergency planners. On the Outer Banks, Dare County officials have decided to wait until 11 a.m. today to decide whether they need to take any actions. No evacuations have been recommended as yet.

``We're optimistic,'' Dare County spokesman Ray Sturza said following a Friday afternoon meeting of emergency officials. ``Based on the current track of the storm, we think the storm will pass 150 miles east of Hatteras Island Sunday. We think there's a 7-in-10 chance that it will stay east of us. If the track stays the same, the worst we'll get is gale force winds. But this could change.''

Edouard's visit could not come at a worse time - the heart of the Labor Day weekend. The beaches of Virginia and North Carolina are swamped with visitors who don't want their holiday ruined. Merchants and hoteliers, too, don't want them being told to head inland unless absolutely necessary.

Sturza said any decision about an evacuation of the county won't be made until this morning at the earliest.

In the meantime, beachgoers were not letting Edouard scare them off Friday.

``The beaches have been full. It's been a beautiful day,'' said Nags Head Deputy Fire Chief Bill Ryan. Lifeguards were keeping people out of the water, however.

``We have had a few problems with people getting in the water,'' Ryan said. ``But for the most part, people have been cooperative.''

Tourism officials fielded calls all day Friday from would-be visitors seeking the latest on the storm.

``We've been pretty busy,'' said Angie Brady-Daniels, public relations director for the Outer Banks Chamber of Commerce. ``We're advising people to continue with their plans, but to monitor the storm. There are a lot of things it could do.''

Residents were taking a wait-and-see attitude.

``We've had a few people in buying batteries and lamp oil,'' said Kathy Seko, manager of the Manteo branch of Ace Hardware. ``Other than that, it's been business as usual.''

Still, most charter boat skippers decided to err on the side of caution and sailed to safe harbor in the Albemarle Sound.

Edouard's effects were already being felt up and down the mid-Atlantic coast Friday, as strong swells churned up far offshore started hitting the beaches.

On Hatteras Island, ocean overwash was common, particularly on the new section of N.C. Route 12 at the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge. Two to six inches of water were common Friday morning at high tide at Pea Island, Buxton and the north end of Ocracoke Island.

While some surfers decided to challenge the churning waters, others seemed unimpressed. There was no evidence of property owners boarding up homes and businesses.

The National Park Service plans to close its campgrounds at noon today, however.

``The worst part of this is the waiting,'' said Bob Gabriel, president of Lifeguard Beach Services, which monitors the northern beaches of the Outer Banks. ``That's all we can do.''

Mayfield said the uncertainties about Edouard's future are even greater than usual, owing to the number of variables that could affect the storm:

A low pressure trough that has been a dominant weather feature along the East Coast since last summer is suddenly fading away. It could yet snag Edouard, however, and pull the storm northeast. But forecasters don't expect that.

High pressure building over New England has a clockwise circulation, and thus the southern flow from it might push Edouard to the west.

A low pressure system in the midwest is heading east and might also influence weather patterns, possibly tugging at Edouard and pulling it closer to shore.

The forward speed of the storm, which has varied, could determine what weather patterns dominate the hurricane's future course.

Faced with those many unknowns, the hurricane watch and tropical storm warning were raised Friday. And Mayfield warned that they may be extended northward or upgraded over the weekend, or both.

Even as they warned coast residents to ready for Edouard, forecasters were tracking another potentially troublesome storm: Fran.

The good news was that, where Fran was going, Edouard has already been. And it appeared Friday that the bigger hurricane may have sapped a lot of the energy its cousin needs.

Fran's top winds decreased slightly to 70 mph, just below hurricane force. And little change in strength is anticipated today.

At 5 p.m., Fran was about 230 miles north-northeast of Antigua, moving northwest near 8 mph. That motion was expected to continue through today.

And Tropical Storm Gustav, located about 1,040 miles west of the Cape Verde Islands, was moving northwest near 9 mph with top winds of 40 mph; some weakening is expected today. ILLUSTRATION: Color photo by ASSOCIATED PRESS

Edouard creeps in, followed by Fran, then Tropical Storm Gustav.