Even before Tropical Storm Dennis grew into a hurricane as it churned through the Atlantic, emergency officials from North Carolina and other Southeastern states conferred with federal officials to discuss a potential response should Dennis threaten the East Coast.
North Carolina officials also held a teleconference Wednesday afternoon with emergency officials in the state's coastal counties.
"We may need you," Tom Ditt, a spokesman with the state Division of Emergency Management in Raleigh, told the county officials. "Make sure you know where your staff is going."
Pender County emergency officials say they've learned a lesson from previous hurricanes and plan to have generators in place should the power go out.
"What we plan to do now is have generators pre-storm at the public shelters, just to run the essential services like water, septic systems and some lighting," said Carson Smith, Pender County emergency management coordinator.
Smith said the state will provide generators, but only after the storm passes. Pender County officials decided not to wait 24 to 36 hours after a storm to set up basic power to the schools that serve as shelters.
In New Hanover County, officials have applied for more than $700,000 in federal and state grants to wire eight schools to make it easy to install large generators. But that money won't come this hurricane season, if at all.
Folks in Brunswick County also will likely have to make do with the smaller generators that served the shelters last year, but emergency management officials have taken steps to get water to any shelter that goes dry.
"We have some water stockpiled," said Scott Garner, assistant fire marshal.
Dennis got the attention of North Carolina officials Wednesday amid forecasts that it might soon begin moving toward the southeastern U.S. coast.
"We're watching it just like everyone else," Ditt said. By midday Thursday, "we should know if it's ... going to be a definite threat."
Before it was upgraded to hurricane status late Wednesday night, Dennis was one of three tropical storms in the Atlantic, along with Emily and Cindy. Early today, Cindy was also upgraded to a hurricane.
At 8 a.m. EDT, Dennis was centered near latitude 24.1 north latitude, 73.7 west longitude or about 245 miles east-southeast of Nassau, the Bahamian capital. The hurricane was moving west-northwest near 6 mph. The storm was expected to strengthen.
"It's looking like it's going to be in the central Bahamas by Thursday," said meteorologist Trisha Wallace at the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
Ditt said one track puts Dennis off the coast of North Carolina by Saturday and skirting the coast.
Behind Dennis were Emily and Cindy, which could get tangled with each other.
Emily sprang up Tuesday at near hurricane strength, but weakened quickly. Wednesday night, it had top winds of 45 mph and was centered near 13.4 north latitude, 55.7 west longitude, 255 miles east of Barbados. It was moving northwest at about 7 mph, with little change expected.
Emily may tangle with Cindy, which was at hurricane strength but far out in the Atlantic and no threat to land. Meteorologists said that if the storms do combine, the resulting system would probably not suddenly become twice as strong.