Henri was upgraded to a hurricane Saturday morning, the National Hurricane Center said, and is moving toward the southern New England coast. It is expected to arrive Sunday and is forecast to pound Connecticut and parts of Western Massachusetts with flooding and dangerous winds that could lead to widespread power outages.
Henri is still forecast to make impact Sunday into Monday, but the hurricane watch was canceled in Barnstable, Dukes, and Nantucket counties. A tropical storm warning is still in effect for southeastern Massachusetts and Martha’s Vineyard, and a surge storm warning is in effect for Cape Cod and Nantucket. Flood watches were issued for parts of central and all of western Massachusetts.
Forecasters predict Henri will strengthen to a hurricane as it heads northward today, and is expected to make landfall near eastern Long Island Sunday as either a strong tropical storm or a lower end Category 1 hurricane.
Henri should weaken rapidly as it heads into Connecticut Sunday evening and slowly exits the region Monday. The main hazards include damaging winds, flooding rain, storm surge flooding, and possibly a tornado, according to the weather service.
The threat of catastrophic damage prompted Governor Charlie Baker on Friday to urge people to hunker down at home on Sunday, noting Henri could batter buildings, flood roads, and rip small boats from their moorings.
On Friday, as Henri whipped its way northward over the Atlantic, Baker warned that the storm could cause an estimated 300,000 power outages as it whirls through the state and could dump up to 10 inches of rain.
“If people don’t take this seriously, don’t understand the size and significance of this particular weather pattern, they could end up in a very bad spot,” a somber Baker said at a news conference.
The National Hurricane Center issued tropical storm warnings late Friday night for several coastal communities in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, spanning from Watch Hill, R.I., to Woods Hole, including Block Island and Martha’s Vineyard.
TROPICAL UPDATE: #TropicalStorm #Henri, with winds of 70 mph, is getting close to #hurricane strength this afternoon as @NOAA's #GOES16🛰️tracks its movement. #Hurricane and #StormSurge Warnings are now in effect for parts of New York and New England. More: https://t.co/oMuv0n3iSc pic.twitter.com/hEhMcenhw2— NOAA Satellites - Public Affairs (@NOAASatellitePA) August 20, 2021
The hurricane center is predicting Henri will become a hurricane by the time it makes landfall on Long Island or in southern New England either late Saturday night or early Sunday morning, according to a bulletin the center issued Friday about 11 p.m. Henri was heading north late Friday night moving at about 9 m.p.h., the center reported.
Between 6 and 8 a.m. Sunday, forecasters expect winds to increase on the Cape and Islands, with stronger winds reaching around 40 m.p.h. on the western side of Martha’s Vineyard, according to William Babcock, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
The worst of the storm will pass farther inland over Connecticut and up into Massachusetts, he said.
”The core is just grazing Southeastern Massachusetts,” Babcock said. “It’s mainly Connecticut and Rhode Island, and during the evening stronger winds start moving into Western and Central Massachusetts.”
Forecasters said the strongest winds are expected to be east of the storm’s track, while the heaviest rains are expected to be west of it.
Henri is headed to the state on a weekend that might have been a chance to enjoy summer’s final days. Instead, Baker warned people to cut short trips to the Cape and Islands and leave on Saturday, or find a way to stay put until Monday or Tuesday.
“The simple point here is we really would like everybody to be off the road at the height of the storm, which will probably last all day [Sunday] and through ... the early part of Monday,” Baker added.
Officials at the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority are already curtailing service on sections of the system where they expect the storm will make it too dangerous to operate.
Service on the Mattapan line and the D branch of the Green Line, and ferry service will be canceled Sunday with no alternative transportation provided, officials said. The rest of the T will operate on a reduced schedule Sunday and should be for “essential travel only,” said MBTA general manager Steve Poftak, who was among a group of officials who joined Baker at the press conference.
He encouraged people to check mbta.com and MBTA social media feeds for more information.
Roads will likely be blocked in some areas by debris, downed power lines, and water.
“If you must travel this weekend, put your safety first,” said Transportation Secretary Jamey Tesler. Turn around if you see water in the road, he said.
The officials said additional resources were being marshaled to deal with any problems on the MBTA and with power outages statewide. Up to 1,000 members of the National Guard will be at the ready to help with tasks such as high-water rescues and debris-clearing, Baker said.
And, the Federal Emergency Management Agency is already bringing in resources, including generators, tarps, food, and water.
The greatest threat with this system will be heavy rain leading to flash flooding, storm surge (though arrival near low tide may help mitigate), and damaging winds leading to power outages. Latest info here --> https://t.co/8X6FPm4Q5N [2/2] pic.twitter.com/cuc2irBU5O— NWS Boston (@NWSBoston) August 21, 2021
People should start preparing for the storm now, monitoring weather forecasts, preparing for flooding and power outages, and planning ahead in cases of specialized care needs that might be disrupted by the storm, said Patrick Carnevale, deputy director of the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency. He suggested that people visit mass.gov/mema for preparedness tips.
“Finally,” Carnevale added, “this is really important: Be a good neighbor. Check on that person next to you, especially if you know that they might be in a difficult situation.”
Boston Acting Mayor Kim Janey urged residents to tie down outdoor items that could blow away, charge electronic devices, and keep enough supplies on hand.
“And as always, be mindful of anyone in your community who may need assistance,” she said in a statement.
Officials to the north were also preparing for the storm on Friday. “The state is putting every resource forward in our efforts to respond to Henri,” New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu said in a statement. “Our top priority is keeping folks safe.”
The storm was expected to strengthen to a hurricane by Saturday morning. It will weaken rapidly after landfall, National Weather Service forecasters said. While the storm is aiming at Newport, they cautioned that its impact can “extend well away from the center of the storm.”
The forecasters said “life-threatening wind” would be generated by the storm across south coastal Rhode Island and Massachusetts that could damage buildings and destroy some mobile homes. Trees could be snapped and uprooted, and large areas could see power outages. Some roads could be impassable and “locations may be uninhabitable for weeks.”
The high winds could also affect other areas of Southern New England, forecasters said.
A life-threatening storm surge, “accentuated by waves” and exacerbated by astronomically high tides, could cause flooding along south coastal Rhode Island and Massachusetts, including the Cape and Islands. Marinas, docks, boardwalks, and piers could be damaged. The rampaging ocean could cause major beach erosion, and the waves will conceal strong and numerous rip currents, forecasters said.
Towns along the South Coast scrambled Friday to prepare.
Fall River Mayor Paul Coogan said he huddled with department heads to review their plans. Saw horses and signs were placed along some roads to allow a quicker response in case a road flooded and needed to be closed.
“We’ve got a couple of hot spots that don’t drain water that well, so we’re targeting those,” he said. Those areas include Stafford Square, Plymouth Avenue, and Davol Street, which runs along the Taunton River.
The city has also prepared an overflow homeless shelter at the Timao Center on Bay Street where water, blankets, and other supplies will be provided, the mayor said.
While it’s still unclear how strong Henri will be when it reaches southern New England Sunday, Coogan said the city wanted to err on the side of caution.
”You try to be smart and be prepared and then you wake up and [the storm] has shifted,” he said. “You have to be ready.”
For more information on how to prepare, the forecasters suggested people visit ready.gov, getagameplan.org, and redcross.org.
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