Hermine continued Monday to twist hundreds of miles offshore in the Atlantic Ocean and was expected to keep swimmers and surfers out of beach waters because of its dangerous waves and rip currents on the last day of the long holiday weekend.
"We're not looking at a landfall," said Dennis Feltgen of the National Hurricane Center on Sunday, adding Hermine is just sitting and pushing the water up along the coast making storm surge a great concern.
It was expected to stall over the water before weakening again.
Governors all along the Eastern Seaboard announced emergency preparations. A tropical storm warning was in effect from New York's Long Island to Massachusetts.
Tropical storm-force winds were possible Monday 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 away from land.
"Don't be lulled by the nice weather," Christie said, referring to the bright sunny skies along the Jersey Shore on Sunday. "Don't think that nothing is going to happen, because something is going to happen."
On the Virginia Beach boardwalk, the Atlantic Ocean roared with uncharacteristically large waves, drawing only a couple of surfers into the choppy white water. But hundreds, if not thousands of people, had descended onto the beach for the traditional last weekend of summer. Umbrellas and canopies dotted the sand under partly sunny skies.
Hermine failed to stop Barb and Don Willis of Buffalo, New York, from enjoying the trip they booked months ago. They even braved the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel on Saturday as the wind whipped their car and the bay rose close to the bridge's bottom.
"That was so scary," Barb Willis said. "Oh my God. My hands were white knuckles, and the water was so high. It was horrible," she said.
The couple, both in their 60s, said they knew the storm would blow over, even as friends texted their concerns.
New York City planned to close its beaches Monday because of rip currents, and the ban could extend into Tuesday, depending on weather conditions, officials said.
Long Island authorities urged people to evacuate the summer getaway known as Fire Island to avoid any storm surge and coastal flooding. Emergency officials warned that anyone who stayed would not be able to leave after ferries shut down Sunday evening.
Hermine 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 knocked out power to hundreds of thousands of people from Florida to Virginia.
The Anclote River northwest of Tampa was forecast to go well into major flood stage Sunday afternoon. Emergency managers issued mandatory evacuations for some low-lying mobile home parks and apartment buildings.
As of 5 a.m. EDT Monday, Hermine's top sustained winds were steady at 70 mph (110 kph) as it moved north at 3 mph (6 kph). The storm was centered about 305 miles (490 kilometers) southeast of the eastern tip of Long Island.
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."
On Saturday, high winds tipped over an 18-wheeler, killing its driver and shutting down the U.S. 64 bridge in North Carolina's Outer Banks.
Earlier in Florida, a homeless man died from a falling tree.
Associated Press writers Seth Borenstein and Jessica Gresko in Washington; Jeffrey Collins in Columbia, South Carolina; Tamara Lush in Tampa, Florida; Bruce Shipkowski in Seaside Heights, New Jersey; Jeff Martin in Atlanta; and Deepti Hajela in New York City contributed to this report.