Gov. Larry Hogan declared a state of emergency, the University of Maryland moved up the kickoff time for its game against Michigan, and Russell Baiocco was moving "anything that the wind can blow" off the docks of his Ocean City marina ahead of Hurricane Joaquin.
"I'm a nervous wreck," said Baiocco, owner of the White Marlin Marina. "We've just got to hold on now."
Meteorologists on Thursday shifted a dynamic and uncertain forecast cone away from the East Coast, suggesting that the Mid-Atlantic — once in Joaquin's crosshairs — now will be spared the brunt of the hurricane.
But as the year's 10th named storm strengthened into the season's most powerful Atlantic tropical cyclone, Marylanders stocked up on groceries and organizers of weekend events postponed or canceled.
State emergency managers warned residents to prepare for flooding, with heavy rain not associated with Joaquin forecast for Friday and more rain over the weekend possible as the hurricane lurches up the coast.
"Our state is taking every precaution and I urge Marylanders to do the same," Hogan said at Maryland Emergency Management Agency headquarters in Reisterstown. "We're preparing for all of the potential paths of the storm."
The National Hurricane Center said East Coast residents should stay alert. Joaquin's winds reached 135 mph late Thursday, making it the first Category 4 storm in the Atlantic since last October, and the first to threaten land since 2010. No major hurricane has hit the United States in a decade – and forecast models released Thursday night suggested that streak appears increasingly likely to continue.
"The forecast models continue to indicate a track farther away from the United States east coast and the threat of direct impacts from Joaquin in the Carolinas and mid-Atlantic states appears to be decreasing," center forecasters said.
Hogan called the emergency declaration a proactive measure, allowing him to activate the Maryland National Guard and bypass normal procurement rules for buying equipment or hiring contractors, if needed.
State emergency managers have been monitoring the storm and staying in close contact with the National Hurricane Center and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. MEMA expects to open its emergency operations center Friday, said Russell Strickland, the agency's director.
"We are, in fact, in a vigilant mode," Strickland said.
Events around the state scheduled for this weekend were postponed and canceled out of concern for the weather forecast.
Saturday's University of Maryland football game against Michigan was moved up from 8 p.m. to noon, the Big Ten Network announced. The weekend's Fells Point Fun Festival, the Chesapeake Bay Wine Festival on Kent Island and the Ironman Maryland triathlon in Cambridge were postponed.
Other event organizers were still waiting to see how the forecast pans out. The Maryland Renaissance Festival and the Mount Airy Fall Festival advertised themselves as "rain or shine," and organizers said they would go on as long as it was safe to do so.
The hurricane could also ground a familiar sight in local skies: two military radar surveillance balloons based at Aberdeen Proving Ground. In a Category 3 hurricane, the football-field-sized balloons would have to be deflated, said Michael Kucharek, a spokesman for the U.S. Northern Command.
The most significant rain is forecast for Friday and Saturday. A flash flood watch was in effect for areas south and west of Baltimore, including Baltimore City, southern Baltimore County and Anne Arundel and Howard counties, from Friday morning through Saturday night. As much as 3 inches of rain is forecast across the southern half of the state, with higher amounts possible in some places, according to the National Weather Service.
Showers are possible Saturday and Sunday as Joaquin passes to the east.
"Until that storm gets northeast of us, we're going to have threats for rain," said Andy Woodcock, a meteorologist at the weather service's Baltimore/Washington forecast office.
Officials in Ocean City said they closed sea wall gates Thursday. With tidal flooding expected, they planned to close the parking lot near the Inlet at midnight Friday. They warned residents and property owners in all areas from the Inlet to 62nd Street to be prepared for "moderate to severe flooding" beginning as early as Friday morning.
Baiocco, at the White Marlin Marina, near the Inlet, said he had a big pot of Italian wedding soup and hot dogs for his crew. He said he planned to keep staff around the clock to keep watch over the marina.
"It's like a hurricane party," he said. "You've got to do something to relieve the tension."
At high tide, he said, water has been coming up the storm drains, and the streets in some areas around town have already flooded.
In the Baltimore area, residents were urged to prepare for flooding and power outages. The Baltimore Department of Transportation is making sandbags available Friday and Saturday at the corner of Thames Street and Broadway, and MEMA asked residents to clean storm drains and gutters, fuel up vehicles and charge cellphones.
"Start now to prepare your families," Hogan said.
Officials with the American Red Cross of the Greater Chesapeake Region said the organization has activated its Regional Emergency Operations Center in Baltimore.
Maryland Transportation Authority officials said the weather could prevent two-way traffic on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.
Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. officials said they are activating additional support contractors — both tree and overhead line crews. With trees unsteady in saturated soil, MEMA officials said, even minor winds could cause power outages.
"We closely monitor all severe weather, and while the path of this storm continues to develop, BGE is taking steps to ensure we are prepared should it affect the Central Maryland area," said Rob Biagiotti, vice president and chief customer officer for the utility.
Biagiotti said customers should prepare for possible outages, and warned that those who depend on electricity for medical equipment should plan on alternate arrangements in case they experience extended outages.
Customers, including those with smart meters, should report outages or downed wires to BGE at 877-778-2222, the utility said.
Baltimore Sun reporters Yvonne Wenger and Ian Duncan contributed to this article.
Canceled and postponed events
•Fells Point Fun Festival, tentatively rescheduled for Oct. 23-25
•University of Maryland football game, to be held at noon Saturday
•Breathe Deep Baltimore 5k walk, moved to Oct. 18
•Chesapeake Bay Wine Festival, moved to Oct. 10
• Havre de Grace First Fridays outdoor activities, moved to Oct. 9
•Ironman Maryland triathlon in Cambridge, tentatively moved to Oct. 17
•Ocean City Wine Fest, postponed with no reschedule date
•Living History programs at Antietam National Battlefield canceled
•Mid-Atlantic Small Craft Festival and Maritime Model Expo in St. Michaels canceled