Hermine spares Ocean City but flood risk isn’t over, forecasters say

Sarah Fox said Dimensions Body Piercing on the Ocean City, Md., boardwalk did six or seven nose piercings on Saturday, compared to 20 on a normal summer weekend day. 

OCEAN CITY, Md. — Even as Hermine shed its hurricane force Sunday, the storm remained robust, driving 65-mile-an-hour wind gusts in some areas and propelling monstrous waves that hammered beaches from the Outer Banks and Delaware beaches north to Cape Cod.

The brunt of Hermine’s punch was off-shore, sparing many areas inland. But coastal communities from Virginia to Massachusetts are likely to face angry waves and elevated water levels for the next few days.

By noon Sunday, storm surge warnings had been issued for the Delaware Bay and the Long Island region.

Ocean City, and nearby beaches, were not expected to experience peak water levels until Monday morning, when it could rise to four feet above the average high tide level, according to The Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang.

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Along the Maryland and Delaware coast, the National Weather Service forecast 15-25 mph winds, with gusts reaching 40 mph along the ocean, and “minor to low-end moderate flooding” Sunday. Severe flooding is “possible” Monday when “the highest storm surge of the event is likely to occur,” the Capital Weather Gang reported.

In Ocean City on Sunday, merchants welcomed the shining sun after business sagged Saturday as beachgoers stayed home. Most business owners said they lost Labor Day weekend revenue Saturday, but were seeing signs that Sunday and Monday would be stronger than they hoped when they first heard a tropical storm was coming.

Megan Leonard was grateful to find that the power was on when she arrived at Kohr Brothers frozen custard shop, where she works in Ocean City. The soft custard dispensers, just behind the counter, still worked.

“All the waffles are still hard,” she said with relief, referring to the cones. “Humidity and rain makes waffles go flat like anything.”

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Mike Miculinic, the owner of a bike rental shop he has operated on and off since 1969, is well accustomed to the perils of bad weather for beach businesses, especially during a key weekend like Labor Day.

“I was under the impression it was going to be a big event, a three-day event,” he said.

Instead, Miculinic found himself renting out bikes all Sunday morning.

“Everybody’s anxious to be outside,” he said.

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Hermine roared through communities along the Atlantic coast Saturday, battering beaches from the Outer Banks to the Delmarva Peninsula with blustery winds and rain.

Up to seven inches of rain fell and 30-to-60 mph winds blew from North Carolina to the Eastern Shore, chasing vacationers and disrupting Labor Day weekend plans as the country bade farewell to the summer season.

The center of the fast-moving storm, hurrying to the Northeast, was expected to be off Chincoteague Island, Virginia, on Sunday.

The NWS posted storm warnings and watches as far north as Cape Cod, and officials said they were concerned about flooding from Sunday morning’s high tide, around 10:30 a.m.

“There is still considerable uncertainty as to how many of the characteristics of a tropical cyclone Hermine will have while it is off of the coast of the Mid-Atlantic and New England,” the National Hurricane Center said Saturday.

The storm has a rather elongated circulation, the hurricane center said: “Regardless of its structure, Hermine is expected to be a vigorous storm with a large wind field that will cause wind, storm surge and surf hazards along the coast.”

Hermine was downgraded from tropical storm status Saturday morning.

By Tuesday, it was forecast to be stalled over warm water in the 80s southeast of Long Island, National Weather Service senior meteorologist Luis Rosa said.

“The system will begin to slow down … and by Monday, it’s not going to move much,” he said. “It’s going to be sitting over water temperatures that are supportive of hurricane formation.”

Meanwhile, offshore, from the Baltimore Canyon to Cape Charles, Virginia, waves as high as 37 feet were expected Sunday, with visibility a mile or less, the Weather Service said.

A hurricane warning was issued for the open ocean off southern New Jersey and Delaware, with winds approaching 75 mph Sunday night.

On shore, the threat of storm surge and flooding loomed all along the coast, especially in southeastern Virginia.

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) issued a state of emergency Friday ahead of the storm. During a news conference Saturday, he said a lot of wind and rain was expected. Already, there was a three-foot surge at the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.

In Maryland, a state of emergency was in effect for Caroline, Cecil, Dorchester, Kent, Queen Anne’s, Somerset, Talbot, Wicomico, Worcester, Calvert, Charles and St. Mary’s counties.

Gusts on the boardwalk in Ocean City were so strong Saturday that walking north was difficult, and a southbound stroller was propelled by wind.

Sand blew off the beach, onto the planks and into the teeth of those out and about.

The beach was largely deserted, but dozens of vacationers had ventured onto the boardwalk.

A few shops were open, and old-timey photos, hermit crabs and buckets of Fisher’s popcorn were available.

Many of the hotels were almost full despite the forecast, and several vacationers said they came in the hope that the storm would miss Ocean City. They also noted that their reservations were nonrefundable.

Susan Lynch Jones, the executive director of the Ocean City Hotel Motel Restaurant Association, said the city’s hotels were approximately 85 percent occupied.

Schwartzman reported from Washington.