CHARLESTON, S.C. – Hurricane Ophelia (search) sat off the coast of the Carolinas on Sunday and a meteorologist said it was a waiting game to see where, and if, the storm comes ashore.
"This one is sitting still," said meteorologist Gil Wagi at the National Weather Service (search) bureau in Newport, N.C.
The hurricane's top sustained wind decreased from 85 mph earlier in the day to 80 mph at 11 a.m. A hurricane watch remained in effect from just north of Edisto Beach, S.C., to North Carolina's Cape Lookout, a stretch of more than 250 miles.
Although there was a chance Ophelia could remain at sea, most computer models bring the hurricane close to the Carolinas late Tuesday or early Wednesday, said Daniel Brown, a meteorologist with the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
"They'll be feeling the effects there in portions of the Carolinas even if it stays offshore," he said.
Conditions don't appear too favorable for Ophelia to strengthen much, he said.
North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley (search) declared a state of emergency as the storm's meandering track shifted northward. The storm was not close enough to make a decision on whether to order evacuations, said Eddie King, Pender County emergency management director.
South Carolina officials said a decision would be made soon about whether to order evacuations, but Charleston County said it would open shelters for voluntary evacuees from low-lying areas and barrier islands.
The storm is "moving really slow so we have to hang with it. But there is some expectation it will move toward the coast," said Joe Farmer, a spokesman for the South Carolina Emergency Management Division.
At 11 a.m. EDT, Ophelia was 265 miles east-southeast of Charleston, S.C., and about 250 miles south of Cape Hatteras, N.C. The storm was stationary after following a meandering course since becoming a tropical storm Wednesday off the coast of Florida.
Ophelia already was contributing to rough surf along the coast.
"There are large swells from Ophelia and residual swells from (Tropical Storm) Nate and from the northeast winds we've had over the past few days. You can imagine how confused the seas are," said meteorologist Steve Pfaff at the National Weather Service in Wilmington, N.C. He said a buoy at Frying Pan Shoals, 35 miles off Cape Fear, reported 12-foot waves Saturday.
Nate and another tropical storm, Maria, were heading toward the cooler water of the north Atlantic.
Ophelia is the seventh hurricane in this year's busy Atlantic hurricane season, which began June 1 and ends Nov. 30. Peak storm activity typically occurs from the end of August through mid-September.