Hurricane Arthur – a category two storm packing maximum sustained winds of more than 100 miles per hour – skirted up the North Carolina coast on Thursday night, but the Tar Heel State managed to escape serious harm.

N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory said Arthur did only “minimal damage” to the state’s Outer Banks – including modest erosion and limited destruction of property.  Meanwhile fewer than 50,000 North Carolinians were without power in the immediate aftermath of the storm – a much smaller number than expected.

Of course Arthur did put the kibosh on a holiday weekend in which a quarter million tourists were expected to come calling on the Outer Banks – a 200-mile stretch of barrier islands that represents a vital component of North Carolina’s tourism industry.

Speaking of, transportation officials were working hard to reopen N.C. Highway 12 – a 148-mile artery that traverses much of the Outer Banks.  The sooner that road is fully traversable, the sooner the Outer Banks can get back to business.

The good news?  Highway 12 appeared to be in much better shape than it was in the wake of Hurricane Isabel (2003), subtropical storm Andrea (2007),  Hurricane Irene (2011) and “Super-storm” Sandy (2012).

In fact McCrory said he expected the road to be open again no later than Saturday evening …

Arthur – the earliest hurricane to strike North Carolina in recorded history – made its first landfall at around 11:15 p.m. EDT near Shackleford Banks, N.C.  After traversing Pamlico Sound, a second landfall was made near the Pea Island Wildlife Refuge.

Why was the impact of this system so mild?

For starters, Arthur came ashore at low tide – limiting the impact of its storm surge.  Also, Arthur was a fast-moving system – meaning its strong winds and heavy rains didn’t linger for long over the region.

So … what’s next for this storm?

Here’s the latest forecast window courtesy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) …

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And here’s the latest forecast track …

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Both models show the system speeding northeast – well offshore of the coastal United States.

While Arthur’s limited impact is obviously good news, it’s early arrival could signal a busier-than-expected tropical season.  In late May, the NOAA predicted a “near-normal or below-normal hurricane season” including 8-13 named storms, 3-6 hurricanes and 1-2 major hurricanes.

Last year saw a drop-off in tropical activity after three busy seasons from 2010-12.

(For previous coverage of Hurricane Arthur, click HEREHERE and HERE).