But vacationers should not take the warm welcome as an all clear. To avoid tragedy, they should stay on land.

The storm is expected to spawn deadly rip currents: rapid flows of water from the shore back out to the ocean that can pull people to sea and exhaust even the strongest swimmers.

Tropical cyclones killed six people in 2009, the National Weather Service said. All drowned in large waves or rip currents.

Despite the warnings, a handful of families frolicked in the surf Thursday in Atlantic Beach, North Carolina.

Among them was Derek Cornwall's family, who arrived for vacation in the resort town late Wednesday.

"We were banking on a couple of hours today before the storm moves in," he said.

His daughter, Hannah, was taking full advantage, playing in the waves despite being "a little nervous" about the storm.

"But I'm actually kind of excited because I've never been in a severe storm," she said. "It's kind of on my bucket list."

Robin Banning, her children and a friend planned to ride out the storm at a Walmart parking lot in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina. They had relocated there from an RV campsite closer to where the storm is expected to hit, but didn't want to go home to Virginia.

"I lived through Bertha," she said, referring to the 2008 hurricane that killed three people. "This is good. It's just rain."

Keeping the Boston Pops dry

Despite the risks farther south, the storm shouldn't force a total washout of East Coast Independence Day celebrations.

With rain forecast for parts of New England on Friday, the annual Fourth of July Boston Pops concert was moved to Thursday.

If it rains then, the fireworks part of the show can start, but the concert may have to go, event organizer Rich MacDonald told CNN affiliate WCVB. "It affects the instruments, and these instruments are valuable and old."

In the nation's capital, the weather looks cheerier for the holiday.

The slight chance of rain during the day Friday will vanish by night, leaving clear skies for the rockets' red glare of fireworks over the National Mall.

However, Thursday's rehearsal was closed to the public because of storms.