Long Island officials and residents are kicking into high gear as Hurricane Irene continues down its projected path toward the area.
The track shows the eye of the storm passing through central and western Nassau sometime Sunday afternoon, though the regions will start to feel effects from the storm as early as Saturday night, meteorologists said.
“With a track like this there is going to be that great potential for very high storm surge and coastal flooding,” David Stark, a meteorologist from the National Weather Service, explained. He added that the excess rain from recent storms could complicate matters with flash flooding inland and softer ground.
According to the National Weather Service coastal flooding could begin as early as Saturday night. The storm should also be hitting the Northeast when tides will be high, adding to the surge and wave action, The Weather Channel said.
Irene is a large storm, with hurricane force winds that extend outward up to 80 miles from the center and tropical storm force winds that extend outward up to 290 miles.
“Even though the landfall may occur in one specific location, impacts will be felt, with this track, all across Long Island with strong winds and heavy rain,” Stark warned.
As of 5 p.m. Hurricane Irene was still a Category 3 storm on the Saffir-Simpson scale with winds at 115 mph and was moving north-northwest at 14 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center. Meteorologists expect it to turn north by early Friday and some additional strengthening is possible, though it is projected to be a Category 1 by the time it reaches Long Island.
The last hurricane to hit Long Island was Gloria in 1985. In 1991 Hurricane Bob brushed past Montauk but did not make direct landfall.
A hurricane has not made landfall in the United States since Hurricane Ike in 2008. A major hurricane hasn’t hit the East Coast since Hurricane Jeanne in 2004.
In anticipation of the storm, Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency in New York.
“We are communicating with our federal and local partners to track the storm and to plan a coordinated response,” Cuomo said in a statement. “And we will deploy resources as needed to the areas expected to be hit the hardest.”
Long Island officials are also preparing for the worst, and are warning residents to take the necessary precautions as the storm approaches.
Nassau County executive Edward Mangano said that school buses in the county were moved to higher ground and are ready in case they’re needed to transport residents to storm shelters. Officials are monitoring the storm and are deciding whether or not to close beaches or limit access to water. He also said officials checked storm drains in areas that were recently flooded by summer storms.
Said Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray: “We’re treating Irene as a war and we’re ready for battle. We’re concerned about beach erosion, we’re concerned about our marinas.”
A Long Beach City police spokesman said officials are still taking a wait-and-see approach on ordering an evacuation of LI’s westernmost and most urban barrier island.
The Suffolk County Office of Emergency Management said it is monitoring Irene and at a minimum Suffolk can expect rain and wind. Residents are advised to keep checking their radios or televisions for weather conditions and possible evacuation orders.
Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy said Thursday that a possible mandatory evacuation may be issued beginning early Friday.
A Town of Babylon spokesman said residents of Oak Beach, Gilgo Beach and other seaside communities on Jones Beach Island, accessible via Ocean Parkway, have not been issued an evacuation order. That barrier island is just west of Fire Island.
Town of Southampton police, covering the easternmost barrier island, issued a statement urging residents to use the time between now and Saturday night to prepare for the worst. They have not issued an evacuation order, either.
Long Island Power Authority officials have been closely monitoring the storm, and are preparing for the extra workload.
LIPA employees have been put on notice for extended hours, and vacations have been cancelled, a spokeswoman for the utility company said. She said approximately 510 on-island electric high voltage and tree removal personnel, which includes contractors, have been notified to help with the possible storm damage. And the company has secured over 500 off-island personnel to help with the storm, she said.
“We’re coordinating efforts with the state, New York City, county and local emergency management organizations,” the spokeswoman said. Residents can also check for updates on LIPA’s website and call 1-800-490-0075 to report an outage.
Long Island Rail Road and Long Island Bus service may be suspended if gale-force winds hit the region as expected, officials said. “Because of the severity of the wind and rain associated with a hurricane, there may be partial or full shut down of our services to ensure the safety of our customers and employees,” an MTA spokesman said in a statement Thursday.
In preparation of the storm, the Red Cross is working with both counties in the event that towns must be evacuated and storm shelters need to be opened.
“A lot of people are not prepared, they don’t think about hurricanes happening here,” said Red Cross spokesman Sam Kille, adding, “residents really need to think about themselves.” He said residents should stock up on water and supplies to last three days. If a storm does hit, Kille said it’s important to be in a room away from windows.
Said Mangano: “You have to recognize that you’re living here on an island, and island living represents certain risks. And those risks appear now, at least, to be tracking toward us.”
-With Associated Press