It’s possible Henri will break a 30-year streak without a landfalling hurricane in Southern New England. Hurricane Bob hit the Southern New England coast on August 19, 1991. Since then, there have been some close calls and tropical storms that have hit the coast, but the official landfalling hurricane designation has not been reached. That’s not to say we haven’t had some big tropical systems wreak havoc in Southern New England. Irene in 2011 and Sandy in 2012 both caused plenty of damage and headaches.
Now comes Henri, a tropical storm off the Southeast US coast as of Friday evening, with the potential to bring hurricane winds to the coast on Sunday. The storm has winds of 70 mph, so if it gets any stronger it becomes Hurricane Henri. The storm will stay offshore as it moves north on Saturday. It will be over the Gulf Stream and may strengthen into a strong Cat 1 or Cat 2 hurricane with winds somewhere between 80-100 mph likely based on latest computer models.
The weather goes downhill in New England and New York Saturday night into Sunday. The first rain bands will arrive Saturday night and the wind will increase to 30 mph gusts at the coast by dawn. The brunt of the storm is likely during the day on Sunday. The exact track determines who gets the worst of it. At this point, I think the core of the strong winds are somewhere between the eastern half of Long Island and coastal CT and west of Narragansett Bay in RI. A slight shift in the storm’s track will play a big role in who gets the strongest winds.
Computer models have the storm weakening as it nears the coast. If it gets to about an 80 mph hurricane south of Long Island, it could be a 60-65 mph tropical storm when it makes landfall. If it gets stronger than 80 mph on Saturday, it may still be a minimal hurricane when it reaches the coast. Minimal hurricane is a bit of an oxymoron with 70+ mph winds capable of causing major damage and power outages. It’s a pretty safe bet that the towns near the coast within about 30 miles of the storm’s center will see wind gusts in the 55-70 mph range. The strongest winds are likely from late Sunday morning until about sunset.
Storm surge is a big concern east of the storm’s center in CT and RI. If the storm turns a bit farther west and approaches NYC from the southwest then the storm surge in western Long Island and NYC could be a big problem. Tides are astronomically high this weekend. Multiple high tide cycles could see flooding.
The heaviest rain will likely be along and west of the storm’s track. At this point, western Long Island and central/western CT have the highest likelihood of very high rain totals over 4″. The eastern side of the storm will likely get less than 2″ of rain, but could see isolated tornadoes spinning up in some of the rain bands.
As you probably know, I work in Atlanta, GA now, so unless you’re one of private clients, your best bet to follow the storm is with my friends and former colleagues in Southern New England. I worked in all the big SNE markets and have great respect for the mets there.