Tropical Storm Hermine meandered slowly in the Atlantic more than 300 miles from land on Sunday. It still threatened some storm-surge flooding at the Jersey Shore, but merchants were fuming that forecasts had scared away vacationers, ruining a usually lucrative Labor Day weekend.

"They scared everyone away," said Cheryl Venezia of Annette's restaurant in Ventnor. "Even this morning, it's beautiful out, and they're still telling people to go home."

Gov. Christie on Saturday declared a holiday-busting state of emergency for Ocean, Atlantic, and Cape May Counties. The National Hurricane Center predicted that the storm would bring a potentially deadly storm surge - a rising of the ocean beyond the normal tide - to the Shore at high tides and could possibly regain hurricane-force winds.

New Jersey's coastal areas remained under a tropical storm warning Sunday night as forecasters warned that the storm would move northward, then slowly turn north-northwestward on Monday. The National Hurricane Center at 11 p.m. Sunday said Hermine's winds remained at 70 mph, just 4 mph shy of regaining hurricane status, and would be at or near hurricane strength offshore during the next 48 hours.

The storm was expected to gradually weaken by Monday night, but forecasters said that from Rehoboth Beach, Del., to Montauk Point, N.Y., the storm surge at high tide could be 1 to 3 feet.

Shore merchants' anger wasn't lost on meteorologist Glenn "Hurricane" Schwartz, who was among forecasters who looked at computer models and saw possible historic flooding at the Jersey Shore and Delaware beaches.

"I feel terrible that people's weekends got messed up," he said.

The difficult thing about tropical storms, Schwartz said, is determining when and where they are going to stall out and begin to move inland. The best modeling available showed Hermine moving toward the Jersey Shore, he said. Between high tide and the hundreds of thousands of people at the beach for Labor Day, everything seemed to be pointing toward a potentially deadly weekend.

But that didn't happen. The storm didn't slow down, and continued moving out to sea.

"So it did not stall as soon," Schwartz said, "and once that happened, it's not able to come back and intensify the way the models were suggesting."

He still was anticipating some flooding Sunday night into Monday, but nothing as serious as he had feared. It was very close, though. Just 15 miles offshore, he said, there were rainfall amounts of 18 inches.

At a media briefing Sunday, Christie defended his decision to declare a state of emergency over the holiday weekend.

"It's always a 'damned if you do, damned if you don't' situation," Christie said. "I went through this with Irene and Sandy. 'What the hell is he doing - why did he evacuate us?' " he recalled being questioned during Hurricane Irene in August 2011.

"So the next year we have Sandy . . . and we had to do some really tricky evacuations at Atlantic City and some other places.

Christie pointed out that when Hurricane Sandy hit in late October 2012, it was the offseason. The Shore's Labor Day weekend population swells by 900,000, creating a greater potential public-safety challenge.

The governor said Hermine's effects were expected to last through Wednesday, with "significant beach erosion."

The National Hurricane Center was not so quick to back off the potential danger of floods from a storm surge coupled with high tides.

"Along the immediate coastline, the surge will be accompanied by large and dangerous waves," its advisory at 5 p.m. said.

Frank Dougherty of Dock's Oyster House in Atlantic City said he thought the state of emergency was premature.

"Christie loves to declare states of emergency," Dougherty said. "They have to recognize there's a significant economic impact before they make these decisions.

"That's not good for business. That's not what Atlantic City needs right now."

Business was grim at Ice House, a bar and restaurant on Park Boulevard in Wildwood.

"We're probably down 75 percent this weekend vs. last year," owner Chuck Burns said. "Business-wise, the last weekend of the summer is critical. This is devastating for a small-business owner."

Wind gusts had picked up in Wildwood by early afternoon, but partly cloudy skies were blue and the sunshine bright as visitors fled the coastline.

Storm-related rip currents forced the closure of many beaches, keeping swimmers and surfers out of dangerous waters.

Wildwood's beaches remained open, however, and lifeguards let people wade knee-deep into the waves.

"Vacancy" signs - unheard of for Labor Day weekend - were lit in some of Wildwood's 300 hotels and motels.

"We lost a lot. They overdid it," said Jeannette Pipitone, owner of the Gondolier Oceanfront, Aztec, and Safari Motels. "I've lost about half of my customers who checked out early on Saturday."

Across the street from the iconic Wildwoods sign, the Kohr Bros. custard stand had had only two customers between 1 and 2 p.m.

"Usually the beach is packed and people walk over here to cool off with a cone," said Brittany Smith, 22, who works behind the counter. "Not today."

Two major Atlantic City beach concerts were canceled in the face of the storm: Florida Georgia Line on Saturday and Blink-182 on Monday.

Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian urged vacationers to "ride out the storm inside one of our luxurious casinos or hotels."

The Townsends Inlet Bridge between Sea Isle City and Avalon remained closed Sunday because of high water and wave action.

Morey's Piers and Raging Waters Water Park shut down Saturday but reopened Sunday, tweeting, "Thanks to Mother Nature, we are open!"

"It really hurt our business," said Mark Lios at Hot Bagels in Margate, usually a madhouse on a holiday weekend. "You can't really blame them because they have to protect everyone. But you wish they could be more accurate."

Hurricane Sandy was uppermost in many Shore residents' minds as Hermine approached. The huge storm was a Category 1 hurricane when it hit, killing 147 people in several states and causing record storm surge and devastating floods, with overall damage exceeding $50 billion.


Staff writer Jason Laughlin contributed to this article.