(Updates with details from National Hurricane Center)
July 1 (Reuters) - The first tropical storm of the 2014 Atlantic Hurricane season formed on Tuesday and could strengthen into a hurricane, the National Hurricane Center said, dampening July 4th holiday celebrations along the East Coast.
Tropical Storm Arthur formed off the central Florida coast and was expected to bring heavy rain, gusty thunderstorms, coastal flooding, rough seas and rip currents to beaches from Florida to southern New England this week, the Miami-based weather forecasters said.
Computer forecast models showed Arthur was not a threat to key oil and gas producing areas in the Gulf of Mexico.
The storm was located on Tuesday about 95 miles (155 km) southeast of Cape Canaveral, Florida, and about 80 miles (130 km) north to northwest of Freeport, Grand Bahama Island, with maximum sustained winds of 40 miles per hour (64 kph).
The storm, moving toward the northwest at nearly 2 mph (3.2 kph) and was expected to remain offshore and move east of the east-central coast of Florida during the next day or so, the NHC said.
It will have the heaviest impact on coastal areas from eastern North Carolina to Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and Long Island, New York, according to meteorologists at AccuWeather.com.
It is too early to tell how close to the coast of North Carolina the storm will get, said Dennis Feltgen, spokesman for the NHC.
Low wind shear conditions and warm sea-surface temperatures should allow for steady strengthening, the NHC forecast said, and Arthur is expected to become a hurricane in 72 hours, reaching a maximum of 80 mph (128 kph) winds, before losing strength.
Forecasters said beachgoers should use caution when going into the surf this week. (Reporting by Koustav Samanta in Bangalore and Harriet McLeod in Charleston, South Carolina; Editing by David Adams, Franklin Paul and Bill Trott)