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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla (WTSP) - As the Fourth of July weekend nears, the Atlantic hurricane season's first named storm was slowly strengthening Wednesday off Florida's east coast.

At 11 a.m. Wednesday, the National Hurricane Center reported Tropical Storm Arthur was about 100 miles east of Daytona Beach, Fla. A tropical storm warning is in effect for all of coastal North Carolina with a hurricane watch for the section of the state that juts into the Atlantic, Bogue Inlet to Oregon Inlet; a watch for Florida was canceled.

Forecasters said Arthur was becoming better organized but is likely to stay just offshore, passing northeastern Florida on Wednesday night and moving parallel to the southeastern U.S. coast, becoming a hurricane by Thursday but losing much of its punch by Saturday morning.

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The worst of the storm should occur at Cape Hatteras, N.C., about dawn Friday, with 3 to 5 inches of rain and sustained winds up to 85 mph, said Tony Saavedra, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service. The storm should move through quickly and be off the coast of New England later in the day, perhaps making landfall in Canada's maritime provinces as a tropical storm.

The center's experimental storm surge map shows the potential for up to 3 feet of flooding in many areas of northwest Florida and Georgia east of Interstate 95. From the Wilmington, N.C. area along the fragile barrier islands, storm surges could be as much as 6 feet in some areas.

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Arthur's maximum sustained winds were recorded at 60 mph. The storm has picked up speed and is now moving north at 7 mph. Forecasters expect the storm to become a hurricane with winds at or exceeding 74 mph before midnight Thursday.

The hurricane center predicts a turn to the north-northeast Wednesday night followed by a turn toward the northeast and an increase in forward speed Thursday.

"I think everybody's keeping one eye on the weather and one eye on the events this weekend," said President Joe Marinelli of Visit Savannah, the Georgia city's tourism bureau.

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