NORFOLK, Va. >> Hermine spun away from the East Coast on Sunday, removing the threat of heavy rain but maintaining enough power to churn dangerous waves and rip currents and keep beaches off-limits to disappointed swimmers and surfers during the holiday weekend.
The system picked up strength in the Atlantic Ocean and could regain hurricane force later Sunday as it travels up the coast. Forecasters expect it to stall over the water before weakening again to a tropical storm by Tuesday.
Governors all along the Eastern seaboard announced emergency preparations. Tropical storm watches and warnings remained in effect for wide parts of the Mid-Atlantic states and the Northeast, including New Jersey and Delaware, where Rehoboth Beach could experience wind gusts up to 50 mph and life-threatening storm surges during high tide late Sunday and into Monday.
In Virginia, Norfolk’s flood-prone Ghent neighborhood saw many streets flooded, especially during high tide.
Emily Birknes said she saw a couple of submerged cars and some people kayaked through the streets. But the water did not seep into any homes that she’s aware of.
“We’ve seen worse storms,” she said. “But whenever severe weather is predicted, there is always an elevated sense of anxiety. People are stressed.”
In Virginia Beach, the weather service predicted large waves and rip currents that could endanger anyone who enters the surf. No significant rainfall was expected for the area, although scattered rain may occur in some parts of southern New England and the Mid-Atlantic states.
On Labor Day, tropical storm-force winds were possible in New Jersey. Gov. Chris Christie warned that minor to moderate flooding was still likely in coastal areas and said the storm will cause major problems, even as it tracks eastward into the Atlantic.
“Don’t be lulled by the nice weather,” Christie said, referring to the bright sunny skies along the Jersey Shore on Sunday afternoon. “Don’t think that nothing is going to happen, because something is going to happen.”
Storm surges were expected to continue along the coast from Virginia to New Jersey.
“The combination of a storm surge and the tide will cause normally dry areas near the coast to be flooded by rising waters moving inland from the shoreline,” the National Hurricane Center said in an advisory.
Hermine (her-MEEN) rose up over the Gulf of Mexico and hit Florida on Friday as a Category 1 hurricane before weakening to a tropical storm across Georgia.
It has caused two deaths, inflicted widespread property damage and closed beaches as far north as New York. The system also left hundreds of thousands of people without electricity from Florida to Virginia.
Dominion Virginia Power said crews were working to restore power to about 5,000 customers in North Carolina and 1,500 in southeast Virginia.
Nearly 80,000 utility customers in Florida were still without electricity, according to the Florida Division of Emergency Management.
The Anclote River northwest of Tampa was forecast to go well into major flood stage on Sunday afternoon. Emergency managers issued mandatory evacuations for some low-lying mobile home parks and apartment buildings.
At 2 p.m. Sunday, the storm’s top sustained winds were steady at 70 mph as it moved east-northeast at 6 mph. The storm was centered about 325 miles east-southeast of Ocean City, Maryland.
Since sea levels have risen up to a foot due to global warming, the storm surges pushed by Hermine could be even more damaging, climate scientists say.
Michael Mann at Pennsylvania State University noted that this century’s 1-foot sea-level rise in New York City meant 25 more square miles flooded during Superstorm Sandy, causing billions in additional damage.
“We are already experiencing more and more flooding due to climate change in every storm,” said Michael Oppenheimer, a geosciences professor at Princeton University. “And it’s only the beginning.”
The winds and rain were so strong Saturday in North Carolina that all bridges to the Outer Banks were closed for several hours following a deadly accident over the intracoastal waterway.
Tyrrell County Sheriff Darryl Liverman told the Virginian-Pilot that high winds tipped over an 18-wheeler, killing its driver and shutting down the U.S. 64 bridge.
And on Hatteras Island in the Outer Banks, a small tornado spawned by Hermine knocked over two trailers and injured four people, authorities said.
Earlier in Florida, a homeless man died from a falling tree.
Todd Solomon, who lives in an area of Virginia Beach that often floods, said water crept up to the foundations of some homes. But he said he did not know of any buildings that were actually flooded.
“If you weren’t in the flood-prone area, it was like a normal day,” he said. “And if your power was out, you kind of bounced around to find a restaurant or grocery store that still had power.”
On Sunday afternoon, he said, a few homes still lacked power. But most people were cleaning up trees and branches felled by the storm.