(CNN) -- Canceled. Rescheduled. As Hurricane Arthur gyrates up the East Coast, beachfront Fourth of July celebrations are falling flat -- and that could save lives, if it keeps revelers out of the water.
"This is no time to put your stupid hat on," North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory told CNN's "New Day" on Thursday, warning people to stay out of the ocean. Forecasters say a major risk from the storm will be potentially deadly rip currents.
"Don't get brave just because you see some good waves out there," he said. "Stay out of the water ... and make sure we don't have to come rescue you and put our emergency workers in jeopardy."
Arthur turned into a hurricane early Thursday and appeared to be headed for North Carolina, prompting hurricane warnings and watches for most of the state's coastline. Parts of South Carolina and Virginia were under tropical storm warnings.
Authorities issued a mandatory evacuation order for Hatteras Island and a voluntary evacuation order for Ocracoke Island, both in North Carolina.
"The focus right now is really getting people to evacuate," Craig Fugate, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, told CNN.
Forecasters expect a storm surge of up to 4 feet at North Carolina's Outer Banks, along with large, destructive waves.
Most of the coast will get 2 to 4 inches of rain, with 6 inches possible in some spots, the National Weather Service said.
On a pier at Atlantic Beach, North Carolina, on Wednesday, a sign read: "No lifeguard on duty." Gulls hovered over anglers as waves gently crashed ashore and few seemed worried about Arthur.
A shirtless beachcomber in a broad-brimmed straw hat was downright adventurous about its approach.
"I've lived long enough to know that new experiences are always fun, so you've got to live them. And this might really be fun and might be scary, but we're going to find out after a while," he said.
The town of Surf City, North Carolina, is scrapping its Fourth of July show, which was scheduled for Thursday.
But the city's website also said the storm's fury is likely to be short-lived and encouraged visitors to keep their beach vacation plans: "Surf City is very much open for business."
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.
The weather service publishes a page of the stories people have told after surviving a rip current.
Three summers ago, a surfer named Greg watched his wife, standing on a North Carolina beach, get smaller and smaller as a rip current swept him away.
He fought it.
"I tried to swim with the boogie board at first, but if you've ever tried to do that, you know that won't work," he said.
Luckily, he remembered what to do. He swam parallel to the shoreline until he was out of the current. Then he paddled for the beach. He was so exhausted when he arrived, he collapsed onto the sand.
"I kissed the ground," he said.
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 is being moved up a day 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.
CNN's Jason Hanna, Sunlen Serfaty and Paul Courson contributed to this report.
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