Hurricane Lee targets Northeast coastline with wind, roiling seas and rain



New England harbors and fishing villages were being emptied of boats — some looking like ghost towns — and hundreds of utility workers deployed during final preparations Friday for the arrival of Hurricane Lee, which threatened to bring heavy winds, high seas and rain across hundreds of miles (kilometers) of land and sea.

The storm is projected to be more than 400 miles (640 kilometers) wide with tropical-storm-force winds when it reaches land, creating worries of power outages in Maine, the nation’s most heavily forested state, where the ground is saturated and trees are weakened from heavy summer rains.

Lee remained a hurricane with 80 mph (128 kph) winds at 2 p.m. EDT Friday as it headed to New England and eastern Canada with 20-foot (6-meter) ocean swells, strong winds and rain. Forecasters said there would be winds topping 40 mph (64 kph) across an area spanning more than 400 miles (643 kilometers) ahead of landfall Saturday afternoon.

[Keep scrolling to see what to expect on Long Island.]

On Friday, there was little else to be done but wait and worry, and make final preparations as Lee, by midafternoon, was spinning about 395 miles (635 kilometers) southeast of Nantucket, Massachusetts, and moving away from Bermuda.

On Long Island, Maine, off of Portland, commercial lobster fisherman Steve Train had just finished hauling 200 traps out of the water. Train, who is also a firefighter, was going to wait out the storm on the island in Casco Bay.

He was not concerned about staying on the island in the storm. “Not one bit,” he said.

In South Thomaston, lobsterman Dave Cousens, who lost fishing gear when Hurricane Bob came through in 1991, said lobstermen were busy moving their traps, which cost $100 to $170 apiece, out of harm’s way to try to avoid being damaged by the rough seas. Some of them were pulling their boats out of the water, as well.

While landfall was projected for nearby Nova Scotia, the Category 1 system was big enough to cause concerns over a wide area even if it weakens to a tropical storm. Parts of coastal Maine could see waves up to 15 feet (4.5 meters) high crashing down, causing erosion and damage, and the powerful gusts will cause power outages, said Louise Fode, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Maine. Up to 4 inches (10 centimeters) of rain was forecast for eastern Maine.

In Canada, Ian Hubbard, a Meteorologist for Environment and Climate Change Canada and the Canadian Hurricane Centre, said Lee won’t be anywhere near the severity of the remnants of Hurricane Fiona, which washed houses into the ocean, knocked out power to most of two Canadian provinces and swept a woman into the sea a year ago.

But it was still a dangerous storm. Kyle Leavitt, director of the New Brunswick Emergency Management Organization, urged residents to stay home. “Nothing good can come from checking out the big waves and how strong the wind truly is,” Leavitt said.

On Friday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was convening the incident response group, which meets only to discuss events with major implications for Canada. Consisting of Cabinet ministers and senior officials, it was previously convened over events including the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and the record wildfire season this year.

Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey joined Maine in declaring a state of emergency, and asking the Federal Emergency Management Agency to issue a pre-disaster emergency declaration. She also activated up to 50 National Guard members to help with storm preparations, including operating highwater vehicles to respond to flooded areas.

The storm’s arrival was expected just days after heavy flooding and tornadoes in New England.

“As we’ve seen in recent weeks, severe weather is not to be taken lightly. Flooding, wind damage, downed trees, tree limbs — all these things create real hazards and problems for people,” Healey said.

East Hampton barred swimming — and, in at least some places, even walking — on beaches because of dangerous surf. Caution tape was strung up along the edge of the sand at the tony second-home community’s picturesque Main Beach, where waves already were roiling Friday afternoon, News12 Long Island video showed.

In Rhode Island, Gov. Dan McKee said crews were working Friday to secure the iconic 11-foot-tall (3.4-meter-tall) “Independent Man” statue atop the State House dome. Workers wanted to safeguard the 500-pound statue against the storm’s wind and rain after a drone recently captured footage showing damage to the base.

In Maine, where people are accustomed to damaging winter nor’easters, some people brushed aside the coming Lee as something akin to those storms only without the snow.

“We fear nor’easters up here more than the remnants of a tropical storm,” said Andrea Silverthorne, who works in reception and reservations at the Inn on the Wharf in Lubec, Maine’s easternmost town.

Destructive hurricanes are relatively rare this far to the north, in New England and Atlantic Canada. The Great New England Hurricane of 1938 brought gusts as high as 186 mph (300 kph) and sustained winds of 121 mph (195 kph) at Massachusetts’ Blue Hill Observatory. But there have been no storms packing that much power in recent years.

The last storm to make landfall in New England as a hurricane was Bob, which tore across Cape Cod and charged northward toward Maine, losing steam and becoming a tropical storm, the National Weather Service said. The region learned the hard way with Hurricane Irene in 2011 that damage isn’t always confined to the coast. Downgraded to a tropical storm, Irene still caused more than $800 million in damage in Vermont.

For this storm, part of Maine was under a hurricane watch for the first time since 2008, for Hurricane Kyle, which skirted eastern Maine. The last hurricane to make landfall in Maine was Hurricane Gerda, which hit Eastport in 1969.

What to expect on Long Island

The National Weather Service is predicting hazardous conditions on the island by placing high surf and rip current advisories in effect, now until Saturday, Sept. 16, at 8 p.m. Large waves are expected between 10-16 feet, with dangerous swimming conditions through Saturday morning.

Forecasters are also predicting a chance of minor coastal flooding in communities susceptible in Suffolk and Nassau counties.

“As much as 1 to 2 feet of inundation above ground level is possible, which will cause shallow flooding on some roads and low-lying property including parking lots, parks, lawns and homes/businesses with basements near the waterfront,” reads the weather advisory from the NWS.

Top: This Thursday, Sept. 14, 2023, 7:51 a.m. EDT satellite image provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows Hurricane Lee in the Atlantic Ocean. (NOAA via AP)