Hurricane Alex heads out to sea
High surf, rip currents could affect coast for next day
Waves crash against North Carolina's coast Tuesday.
Location: latitude 36.5 north; longitude 72.8 west
Wind: near 90 mph
Speed: east-northeast at 17 mph
Next update: 5 a.m. ET
(CNN) -- Alex, the first hurricane of the 2004 North Atlantic season, headed out to sea Tuesday night after brushing North Carolina's Outer Banks.
The National Hurricane Center discontinued all hurricane and tropical storm warnings for the mid-Atlantic coast Tuesday evening.
But the center urged residents to use caution until wind and seas subside and warned that high surf and rip currents could affect coastal areas for the next day or so.
Alex changed direction Tuesday afternoon after strengthening to a Category 2 storm with winds near 100 mph.
At 11 p.m. ET, Alex's center was about 175 miles (285 kilometers) east-northeast of Cape Hatteras, the center said.
It was moving northeast at near 17 mph and was expected to continue that motion for the next 24 hours, the center said.
Maximum sustained winds were near 90 mph (150 kph), with higher gusts, said the center, forecasting only slight weakening over the next 24 hours.
The hurricane center classifies a storm as a Category 2 hurricane when its sustained winds reach 96 mph (154 kph).
Hurricane force winds extended up to 35 miles from the storm's center. Winds of tropical storm force -- at least 39 mph (62 kph) -- extended up to 105 miles (165 kilometers), posing problems for area shipping.
Weatherflow Inc., a private firm, measured a five-minute sustained wind of 75 mph at 1:35 p.m. ET at Avon Pier on Hatteras Island, the hurricane center said.
CNN meteorologist Chad Myers said that nearby Cape Hatteras reported gusts up to 90 mph.
"But this probably won't be considered a landfalling hurricane because that eyewall is just skimming the coast," he said.
Standing in Morehead City near the southern end of the Outer Banks on Tuesday afternoon, Myers said wind gusts had topped out at 45 mph and surfers had taken to the water as the storm moved toward Cape Hatteras.
"From one side of our camera to another, from very gray to blue," Myers said, indicating video of the stormy cloud cover obscuring the horizon to the northeast and partly cloudy blue skies to the southwest. "That's the way a hurricane is."
High surf and rip currents
Outer Banks resident Jim Sarsfield told The Associated Press he wasn't worried about Alex.
"It's just going to be a couple of days of rain and a little bit of wind, then it will be life as usual," said Sarsfield, who had picked up loose objects around his home but didn't plan to cover his windows. "Just your basic get-ready-to-get-ready."
Rainfall accumulations were expected to be from 3 to 6 inches, with some higher amounts, the center said.
Joyce Essick, a resident of Manteo, North Carolina, since 1984, was stocking up on bread and milk early Tuesday, according to the AP.
"I don't think it will get that bad," Essick said. "I was out of this stuff anyway, so I had to come get it either way."
Alex is late bloomer
Alex was the fifth-latest first hurricane to form in the Atlantic hurricane season's last 50 years.
The latest in the season to form was 1992's Andrew, which reached hurricane strength on August 22, ravaged south Florida, crossed the Gulf of Mexico and slammed into Louisiana.
Two others, Arlene (August 8, 1963) and Alberto (August 6, 2000), played out over the Atlantic.
Allen became a hurricane on August 3, 1980, and took an almost straight path through the Caribbean -- reaching Category 5 status (wind speeds above 155 mph) three times.
Remarkably, it did not touch land until it came ashore near Brownsville, Texas -- bringing its strongest winds and storm surge to the least populated parts of the Texas coast.
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contributed to this report.