For days, the New Jersey 20-somethings watched as Earl wobbled between menace and near miss. They planned a hurricane party. They gathered supplies. But on Thursday as those in neighboring rentals homes in Corolla packed up and headed inland, they were ordered to do the same.
Like many in this resort town, the group anxiously awaited the storm's arrival overnight to see what kind of punch Earl would pack. By early Friday - hours after Earl was downgraded to a Category 2 storm - strong winds, light rain and sparse crowds on a usually busy night along the strip were the only signs something was swirling out at sea.
"We left, but we want to see some type of action," said Amanda Guthrie, 22, as she sipped a neon green "Hurricane Earl" at the Lunasea bar with her friends from Flemington, N.J.
"Bring it, Earl," echoed April Coughlin, 21.
(Scroll down the page to see projections of when high winds will reach the East Coast.)
Virginia's coast was spared from the powerful winds and driving rains Earl dumped on the Outer Banks.
"We dodged the bullet on this one," said Wayne Albright, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Wakefield. Earl's track kept the center of the storm out at sea.
Earl was expected to move out of southeastern Virginia later Friday. Until it moved on, Albright said the area would see steady winds with gusts of up to 45 mph and up to an inch of rain. Minor flooding was possible as high tide approached later in the day, he said.
Electric utility Dominion reported scattered outages in the Hampton Roads area.
Michael Barakey, a battalion chief and spokesman for the Virginia Beach Fire Department, said the emergency command center received only six storm-related calls, with most concerning transformer fires, downed powerlines and a fallen tree. Officials planned to close the center at noon.
"The storm is behaving very nicely for us," Barakey said.
It also was a quiet night for National Guard troops activated as a precaution. About 200 guardsmen were sent to the area after Gov. Bob McDonnell declared a state of emergency earlier this week in advance of the storm. They had not received any calls for help by early Friday morning.
Along the strip, small crowds gathered outside bars and clubs, but not nearly as many as would be expected for the kickoff to Labor Day weekend.
At Deja Blu, a handful of people sat at the bar as a jazz band played on stage. The club usually would be packed on a Thursday night, but the threat of Earl kept most away, said Aykine Hicks, who owns the bar with her husband.
"Everybody is taking precautions," Hicks said. "They're afraid to come out because they don't know what to expect."
Along the shore, couples walked hand in hand early Friday, and some stood at the edge of the surf and snapped pictures of the whitecapped waves.
Eddie Garoppo and Yvonne Boyce live in Virginia Beach and came out to check on the storm. The scant crowds surprised Boyce, a longtime resident who gave birth to her daughter as Hurricane Isabel blew through in 2003.
"It's Labor Day weekend. It shouldn't be this dead," she said. "Not here, not now."
Garoppo, a merchant mariner, said he understands why people would want to stay away. A shimmy to the west could mean the difference between a glancing blow and a full on punch, he said.
"I'm no meteorologist, but I know things can happen," Garoppo said. "Mother Nature is unpredictable."
By Friday afternoon, skies were expected to be blue again as the city gears up for a busy weekend.
More than 20,000 runners were headed to the area for a half-marathon scheduled for Sunday. Friday night kicks off a weekend music festival featuring the Village People, Pat Benatar, REO Speedwagon and other '80s acts.
The group from New Jersey planned to spend Friday on the beach before following Earl up the coast toward home.
But in the early morning hours, they looked out over the waves and compared the Category 4 storm that chased them from their vacation early Thursday to its anticlimactic pass through Virginia.
Around 2:30 a.m. the first drops of rain started coming down.
"This is Earl," said Meredith Dudley, 21, throwing her arms open wide against the wind. "Great to see you."
(Left: This graphic shows the probability of tropical storm-force winds hitting the east coast from Hurricane Earl through 3 p.m. Sept. 4, 2010.)