Eastern Massachusetts will likely be spared the brunt of Henri when it hits land Sunday, state officials said, but the storm is still poised to bring heavy rainfall to Central and Western Massachusetts, where the ground is saturated from recent downpours.
Though it is still expected to make landfall on Long Island or southern New England, Henri’s predicted path has shifted to the south and west, putting Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey at greater risk. The highest winds will be to the east of the storm, while the heaviest rains will fall to the west, the National Weather Service said.
“It looks like we’ll avoid the worst of what we were preparing for [Sunday] and Monday, for most of the state, but everyone should still pay attention to the local weather alerts,” Governor Charlie Baker said at a news conference Saturday afternoon.
“This is definitely not the direct hit that many people in the forecasting community were anticipating a couple of days ago,” he said.
Despite the change in trajectory, Baker held to earlier predictions the state could experience as many as 300,000 power outages and potential flooding to the west.
Rhode Island, meanwhile, remains closer to the bullseye for Henri, and state officials warned residents and visitors to prepare for damaging winds, storm surges and flooding from heavy rain, and extended power outages
Henri’s projected track has lurched to the west of Rhode Island, but even if it doesn’t make a direct hit, the state would be on the side with the strongest wind, and would see significant damage, emergency planners said.
“This is an ever-evolving situation,” Marc Pappas, director of the Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency, said at a briefing Saturday afternoon. “I want to emphasize this isn’t just coastal communities that are impacted but the entire state.”
The National Weather Service predicted Henri will dump more than 5 inches of rain in Connecticut and Western Massachusetts, with the potential for much more in the Springfield area.
“The rain that they’ve already received, plus this rain will definitely be an impact on Western and Central Mass,” said Patrick Carnevale, deputy director of the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, at the afternoon press conference.
In Worcester, where flash flooding washed out roads Thursday, the city said it was putting up barricades in low-lying areas, clearing debris from catch basins, and readying emergency equipment.
Kerry Emanuel, a professor of atmospheric science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said rainfall poses a greater threat than high winds during a hurricane.
“The rain worries me because in a typical hurricane, freshwater floods kill more people — substantially more people — than the wind does,” he said. “The wind is what gets all the press, but the rain and the storm surge are the killers in these storms.”
Jim Kossin, a senior scientist with The Climate Service, said Henri’s predicted path is unusual but not without precedent and noted that it is difficult to pinpoint why the storm is taking that track.
“That being said, the ocean temperature along the US Northeast Coast is quite a bit warmer than usual for this time of year, and this very likely has a climate change fingerprint on it,” Kossin said Saturday in an e-mail. “All other things equal, there is no doubt that these warmer than usual ocean temperatures will allow Henri to maintain a greater intensity as it tracks northward.”
A hurricane warning was in effect from New Haven, Conn., to the western border of Westport, Mass., and Block Island, R.I., as of Saturday evening, while much of Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket faced a tropical storm warning.
Communities under the hurricane warning could see winds up to 75 miles per hour and gusts of 80 miles per hour, plus up to 8 inches of rain, the National Weather Service said. Areas facing the tropical storm warnings are expected to get winds between 39 and 70 miles per hour, the weather service said.
The storm front is also very wide. The weather service warned that hurricane-force winds can extend outward from the center of the storm up to 45 miles, with tropical-storm-force winds as far as 150 miles.
Storm surge warnings were issued for Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard, and Block Island, and a storm surge watch was issued for the area between Sagamore Beach and communities north of Chatham.
In Westport, boat slips outside Back Eddy Restaurant were empty on Saturday as owners moved their vessels before the storm.
Sal Liotta, who owns the restaurant, said he plans to open Sunday with a generator nearby.
“We’ll take all the furniture in this evening and batten down anything that can fly around,” he said. “But we’ll be open, as long as it’s safe.”
Ferries taking passengers from Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard were busy on Saturday.
Sue Horn, of Gahanna, Ohio, said her family ended their Nantucket vacation a day early so they could start driving home.
“We decided to err on the cautious side,” she said as she and her family gathered luggage near the Hy-Line Ferry in Hyannis.
In New Bedford, Mayor Jon Mitchell told a news conference that the city planned to close Fort Taber, the HarborWalk, and local beaches by 8 p.m. Saturday and use police officers to enforce the shutdown.
“Don’t go up there ... we have a storm surge, you put yourself at risk [to be] swept out to sea,” he said. “Don’t let it happen.”
Utility companies said they were getting ready for the hurricane.
Unitil Corp. said it has called in outside crews and plans to open an emergency operations center on Sunday. National Grid said it has 3,100 people in place to handle emergency operations. Eversource said it was setting up staging areas across the state and planned to open all five of its emergency operations centers.
While most of Henri’s rain is expected to miss Cape Cod, the region is expected to experience wind gusts up to 55 miles per hour and storm surge up to 5 feet, according to the Barnstable County Regional Emergency Planning Committee.
The last hurricane to reach New England was Bob, which killed 17 people and caused $1.5 billion of damage in 1991. It’s been 36 years since a hurricane last reached Long Island, when Gloria killed eight people and caused nearly $1 billion in damage in 1985.
In Mashpee, Charlie Schmalz, who owns Green Water Marine Solutions, said he planned to ride out the storm at home after helping boaters move their vessels out of the water.
“There’s just tons of boats out there and we can’t really keep up with them,” he said.
In Falmouth, one couple said Henri wouldn’t ruin their vacation plans.
Marianna and Thomas Silverman waited for a ferry to take them to Martha’s Vineyard with an optimistic outlook.
“We figure Sunday’s going to be a rainout,” Thomas Silverman said, “and then the rest of the week looks good.”
There was another group of people trying to take advantage of the storm: surfers. They took to the building waves in Rhode Island Saturday while the weather still showed bright sun and clear skies.
Rachel McCarty went to Conant Avenue in Point Judith with her surfboard atop her Subaru, whose license plate reads “SURFY.”
“The waves just kept getting better, the longer we were out there,” said McCarty.
But, as Henri moves even closer, McCarty acknowledged the surf will get too aggressive for even experienced surfers.
“The waves can escalate quickly,” she said.
John Hilliard of the Globe staff and Globe correspondent Nick Stoico contributed to this report.
Laura Crimaldi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @lauracrimaldi. Jack Lyons can be reached at email@example.com. Brian Amaral can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @bamaral44.