As of 2pm, the National Weather Service had issued a hurricane watch for the North Carolina coast. The state is currently evacuating visitors from Hatteras Island and the rest of the Outer Banks.

Virginia and the Eastern Shore of Maryland and Delaware, and the Jersey Shore (batten down the Situation!) are all under hurricane warnings, and small craft advisories extend into New England, and all the way south to the Florida Keys.

A hurricane watch is defined by the National Weather Service as “hurricane conditions are expected somewhere within the warning area. A warning is typically issued 36 hours before the anticipated first occurrence of tropical-storm-force winds.” A warning just means that those conditions are possible and it’s usually issued 48 hours before any anticipated effects.

Even if you’re heading to an Atlantic coast beach that’s not currently in the projected path of Hurricane Earl, beware of higher than usual surf and rip tides that often accompany storm surges. And you may want to pack a deck of cards and a flashlight, just in case.

Ann Shields is an online senior editor at Travel + Leisure.

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