WESTERLY — Swarms of tourists eager to ring in their holiday weekend at the beach have already descended upon Misquamicut and the Greater Westerly area, despite projections for rain, rip currents and high surf this evening into Saturday.
Though the worst of Hurricane Arthur is expected to pass east of Connecticut and Rhode Island, the National Weather Service is warning of rip currents and high surf beginning late today and continuing through Saturday morning, according to a press release from Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management.
At Misquamicut State Beach, a full staff of lifeguards will be on duty for the weekend, according to lifeguard manager Cooper Ferreira, who has been holding extra training sessions for his staff throughout the week in preparation for the rough surf this weekend.
Ferreira explained that the steady rain predicted for today will likely deter most beachgoers, leading to an even larger crowd of sunbathers and swimmers when the sun returns on Saturday.
“The fifth is going to be a huge pile-up,” said Ferreira, estimating a few thousand will fill the state beach. “With July 4 on a Friday this year, I can guarantee you this will be one of the biggest crowds we’ve had in a while.”
Despite 80-degree temperatures predicted for Saturday, the lingering effects of the hurricane are expected to leave swells of up to 8 feet and strong riptide currents. Ferreira advised that only strong swimmers enter the water, emphasizing the need to pay attention to lifeguard instructions and to swim diagonally to the shore if caught in a riptide.
“With the hurricane and the crowds, it’s basically the perfect storm this weekend,” he said.
Along with state beach workers, Atlantic Avenue businesses Thursday were in full preparation mode for the weekend ahead, hoping for a good turnout at restaurants and bars, hotels and amusement parks.
“I hope people don’t base their whole weekend of plans on the weather cams,” said Sally Sorensen, whose family owns Atlantic Beach Park, including the Windjammer Surf Bar.
The Windjammer will celebrate the holiday with many traditional events, including an ’80s-themed dance party Thursday night and drink promotions, giveaways and more live music for the rest of the weekend.
“We usually get slammed on Fourth of July, so we hope this year will be the same,” Sorensen said.
Down at Pleasant View Inn, Cathy Haire, a front-desk agent, said all 112 rooms have been booked for the weekend since two weeks ago.
“It’s been incredibly busy, just nonstop,” she said Thursday.
Heading into downtown Westerly and Pawcatuck, other Fourth of July traditions were forced to draft contingency plans based on the weather. American Flag Committee founder Ken Burton, who along with a group of other committee members and volunteers usually sets up about 200 flags throughout town every Independence Day, said Thursday morning he had already contacted many of the volunteers and canceled the plans.
“I’m still going to put some up on Broad Street, rain or shine,” Burton said. “If the sun is up, then more flags will be up, of course, though not all 200 of them.”
The annual parade and Declaration of Independence reading in the Stonington Borough is expected to kick off at 10 a.m. as planned, unless severe thunderstorms compromise parade safety, according to Rob Palmer, president of the Stonington Historical Society.
The parade steps off from Wadawanuck Square in front of the Stonington Free Library, proceeding first to Cannon Square then returning to the library to read the Declaration of Independence, followed by a concert of patriotic music at Calvary Church.