Henri, which weakened slightly from a Category 1 hurricane on Sunday morning, poses a serious flooding danger for millions of people across the region’s major metropolitan areas. Even below hurricane level, the storm will be dangerous enough to bring damaging winds and storm surge that threaten to bring down trees and power lines and cause major flooding.
As of 11 a.m., Henri is about 15 miles east of Long Island and moving north-northwest toward Connecticut and Rhode Island at 12 miles per hour, according to the National Hurricane Center (NHC).
Henri has maximum sustained winds of 60 mph, below the level of what is considered a hurricane. A wind gust of 69 mph was reported last hour near Point Judith, Rhode Island, as well as a gust of 65 mph on Block Island.
The forward speed of the storm has slowed down in recent hours and will continue to decrease, which will worsen the flood threat across the region. The National Weather Service office in New York issued a flood watch until 8 p.m. Monday, and a rainfall total of 3 to 5 inches is currently forecast for the NYC area Sunday.
Tens of millions of people are under tropical storm warnings from East Rockaway Inlet, New York, all the way to Chatham on Massachusetts’ Cape Cod, a stretch that includes most of Long Island; New Haven, Connecticut; and Providence, Rhode Island. New York City was also previously under a tropical storm warning earlier Sunday.
Flash flood watches are in effect for more than 35 million people, and storm surge warnings were also in place for much of Long Island and for parts of the Cape Cod coastline, the NHC said. A storm surge warning means there is a danger of life-threatening inundation from rising water moving inland from the coastline.
“The combination of a dangerous storm surge and the tide will cause normally dry areas near the coast to be flooded by rising waters moving inland from the shoreline,” NHC forecasters said.
There’s also a chance tornadoes may form Sunday over southern New England, CNN meteorologist Haley Brink said.
In 2012, Superstorm Sandy made landfall in New Jersey with hurricane-force winds and devastated swaths of the Northeast, though it was a post-tropical cyclone when it came ashore.
Henri’s wind field — which is the three-dimensional radius around the storm — at landfall is expected to be a quarter of the size of Sandy’s, CNN meteorologists said.
“Henri is a much more compact storm than Sandy was when it made landfall,” CNN weather producer Robert Shackelford said.
New York’s Central Park sees record rain
Even before landfall, the storm’s outer bands brought record rainfall to New York City on Saturday night.
In Manhattan, Central Park set a daily record rainfall of 4.45 inches Saturday, the National Weather Service said. The heavy rain edged out the previous record of 4.19 inches dating back to 1888.
Between 10 and 11 p.m., 1.94 inches of rain fell in Central Park, setting the all-time NYC record for the most rain recorded in one hour, the National Weather Service in New York said.
Meanwhile, other areas in New York City saw 4 to 8 inches of rain, with Brooklyn receiving more than 6 inches in a 24-hour period.
Lightning in the city led officials to postpone the “WE LOVE NYC: The Homecoming Concert” in Central Park Saturday night, which was televised by CNN. The event was intended to celebrate New York City’s progress in its fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.
Across the Hudson River, neighboring New Jersey saw rain totals of 1 to 3 inches in 24 hours.
Extreme rainfall rates such as this are becoming more common because of human-caused global warming, scientists say. A recent UN climate report stated, “the frequency and intensity of heavy precipitation events have increased since the 1950s over most land area.”
A flash flood watch remains in effect through Monday morning, with an additional 3 to 6 inches of rain expected for parts of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York and Vermont, with higher amounts possible.
New York officials closed all city beaches Sunday and Monday in anticipation of the storm’s impact. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio declared a state of emergency Saturday afternoon ahead of the storm, saying heavy wind, rain and storm surges are expected Sunday morning and urged everyone to stay indoors if they can. The mayor also issued a travel advisory, recommending residents limit travel Sunday, especially driving.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo warned people in flood-prone areas.
“If you know you are in an area that tends to flood … get out of that area now, please,” Cuomo said in a televised news briefing Saturday.
In advance of Henri, Cuomo on Saturday declared a disaster for areas including Long Island, New York City, Westchester and Hudson Valley. New York has heavy equipment deployed on Long Island and water-rescue teams ready to go, Cuomo said.
Power outages possible
Other parts of the Northeast similarly prepared for extreme weather and the potential for flooding and power outages.
In southeastern Connecticut, there is now a flash flood warning in effect until 12:45 p.m., including New London and Groton. Mandatory evacuations were also ordered for the coastal towns of Guilford and Branford, according to a tweet from state Rep. Sean Scanlon.
“If you live in a coastal, low-lying or area prone to historic flooding due in Guilford, evacuate now. If you live in Zone 1 or 2 in Branford … evacuate by 9pm,” Scanlon wrote. “PLEASE TAKE THIS SERIOUSLY.”
Rhode Island Governor Dan McKee said Sunday the state is bracing for high wind, loss of power and flooding on Sunday.
“I’m asking you, Rhode Island, to say home until this storm passes. You are not only putting your own life at risk but you are endangering our first responders,” McKee said during a news conference.
As resources from other states continue to pour in, McKee said he has ordered a ban on state roadways for motorcycles and tractor trailers, except those carrying emergency supplies. The governor said he is limiting access to a number of the state’s bridges as well.
The National Guard in New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island was activated or otherwise poised ahead of the storm to help with any rescues, cleanup and other support, officials said.
Eversource — which provides electric services in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Connecticut — set up 1,500 crews to help with power restoration efforts and 500 others for tree clean up.
“They’re preparing for the hurricane at staging areas … so that they’re ready to restore power as quickly and safely as possible,” the company said in a tweet.
The Edison Electric Institute, which represents companies that provide electricity for more than 220 million Americans, said 12,000 crews from at least 29 states, Washington, DC, and Canada are being positioned to move in after the storm.
“These crews will work around the clock to restore power as quickly as possible when and where they can, provided it is safe to do so,” the institute said in a news release.