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New England is just hours away from feeling the first significant impacts from Hurricane Lee as the powerful storm accelerates north Friday morning, carrying a range of dangerous weather including strong winds and powerful surf to last through at least Saturday.
While the center of the storm will likely stay east of the U.S. and move into the Canadian Maritimes, Lee’s massive wind field spreads hundreds of miles across and will not spare the New England coast from its wrath, the FOX Forecast Center said.
Conditions will deteriorate Friday evening, and be at their worst on Saturday before rapidly winding down late Saturday into early Sunday morning.
In Massachusetts, winds were increasing Friday late morning as gusts were reported around 40 mph in Nantucket.
Preparations were also racing to completion in places like Cape Cod as Lee’s impacts are expected to be felt through the weekend.
Boat owners began tying down their vessels or removing them completely from the harbors in hopes of saving the ships from destruction from powerful winds and waves.
The National Hurricane Center dropped the Hurricane Watch for Downeast Maine while Canada extended the Hurricane Watch eastward to Ecum Secum.
Tropical Storm Warnings are in effect for much of the New England Coast, spreading from the Massachusetts/Rhode Island border north into Canada.
The earlier Hurricane Watch for Downeast Maine was its first since Hurricane Kyle in 2008.
The current forecast has Lee making landfall likely along the western shores of Nova Scotia or perhaps the extreme southwestern corner of New Brunswick.
But Lee’s large size means the exact landfall location will minimally affect expected impacts.
“Looking at the cone, you’ll notice it’s going to be very skinny,” FOX Weather meteorologist Britta Merwin said. “The impacts will be outside the cone, especially when it comes to the wind because the wind field is growing with this storm.”
The combination of storm surge and tide will cause normally dry areas near the coast to be flooded by rising waters moving inland from the shoreline.
About 1-3 feet of surge is expected along Cape Cod and the New England coasts, with 1-2 feet along Long Island.
The NHC says the deepest water will occur along the immediate coast where the surge will be accompanied by large and destructive waves – some at 10-15 feet or higher depending on proximity to the storm.
“Some overwash is possible along much of the coast depending on the timing of the peak surge from the storm and how that coincides with the tide cycle,” said FOX Weather Hurricane Specialist Bryan Norcross. “Water levels in Long Island Sound could reach 3 feet above the normal high tide and 2 feet on the south shore of Long Island including on Fire Island. Besides the energy from the swells emanating from the hurricane, strong north and northeast winds Friday will push water from Long Island Sound and Great South Bay in New York into the north-facing shorelines, which could damage low-lying structures. The threat will be most pronounced at high tide.”
Meanwhile, dangerous and rough surf is already hitting much of the East Coast and will continue as the Category 1 hurricane moves north offshore.
“The energy in the ocean from the broad sweep of Hurricane Lee’s winds will peak along the ccoast (Friday),” Norcross said. “Extra-powerful waves and elevated water levels will cause beach erosion in some areas at high tide. Currents along the beaches and in inlets will be dangerously strong.”
By Thursday evening, swells and rough surf were already spotted along the Southeast coasts.
The Outer Banks in North Carolina felt overwash along Highway 12 well over an hour before high tide was expected.
As of Friday morning, a Coastal Flood Warning and High Surf Advisory will remain in effect for the North Carolina coasts through Sunday.
Beaches from Florida to the Northeast will see these big waves and deadly rip currents into the weekend.
The large swells slamming into East Coast beaches will also lead to widespread beach erosion.
People living in the warned areas of Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine can anticipate wind gusts of 50-65 mph along the coastlines as Hurricane Lee makes its closest pass Saturday.
These strong winds have the potential to cause power outages, fallen trees, and areas of coastal flooding. In areas just a little further inland, wind gusts of 40-50 mph are expected.
“For consistent tropical storm-force winds, we’re talking about Cape Cod, Nantucket, and the stretch up toward coastal areas of Maine,” Merwin said. “Once you get inland like across Vermont and inland locations of New Hampshire, we’re talking about tropical storm force wind gusts.”
With the bulk of the storm staying east of much of New England, winds will remain high but not extreme.
“Hurricane Lee will behave like a giant nor’easter, which New England should be able to deal with without too much trouble,” Norcross said. “The biggest difference is that the leaves are still on the trees, which means gusty winds do more damage than in the winter.”
While Lee bypassed the pink-sand beaches of Bermuda, the storm lashed the islands with rain, wind, and waves in recent days.
The strong winds, with gusts of up to 51 miles per hour, caused power outages throughout the island on Thursday afternoon.
The storm will not produce significant flooding rains due to its forecast track and fast motion, but some places along the coast in Maine could pick up 3 to 5 inches of rain over the weekend.
Lee will quickly move through the Canadian Maritimes Sunday, allowing for rapidly improving conditions in New England Sunday.
More rain returns to the Northeast on Monday as a more traditional frontal system swings through.