The National Weather Service has issued Long Island and the surrounding area a hurricane watch and a flood watch as Irene approaches the East Coast.
As of 11 a.m. Friday, Hurricane Irene had weakened slightly to a Category 2 storm, with maximum sustained winds of 105 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center. At this time the NHC placed the storm about 810 miles south-southwest of New York City and 860 miles south-southwest of Montauk Point.
The storm is moving north at 14 mph and its outer bands could begin to impact the region late Saturday night into Saturday evening.
The NHC said that the worst of the storm will hit Long Island late Saturday night into Sunday afternoon, bringing damaging winds, torrential rain that could amount to 5 to 10 inches, and significant coastal flooding and beach erosion.
Meteorologists warn that based on recent heavy rains, moderate to major river flooding is likely along with significant and widespread urban and poor drainage flooding.
Major coastal flooding could occur if the greatest surge coincides with the times of high tides Sunday morning and/or Sunday evening.
Irene is a large storm, with hurricane force winds that extend outward up to 90 miles from the center and tropical storm force winds that extend 290 miles.
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.
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.
The last hurricane to hit Long Island was Gloria in 1985. In 1991 Hurricane Bob brushed past Montauk but did not make direct landfall.