Hurricane Henri warnings are in effect across Connecticut and Gov. Lamont has declared a state of emergency. Eversource predicts up to 69% of customers will lose power.
Hartford Courant (CT)
Hurricane Henri remains on track to slam into Connecticut starting Sunday morning and is expected to bring severe flooding, very high winds and historic power outages across the entire state.
Hurricane warnings are in effect along the shoreline from New Haven east through Rhode Island to Westport, Massachusetts — including Block Island — and tropical storm warnings are in effect across the remainder of the state and much of Southern New England and New York.
Some isolated evacuations have begun in particularly flood-prone portions of shoreline towns, where officials are preparing for a “direct hit” and urging residents to take seriously their preparations for what is shaping up to be a historic storm event across Connecticut. Madison officials have ordered mandatory evacuations of all residents south of Route 1 in town by 9 p.m. Saturday and voluntary evacuations have been ordered across parts of Groton and New Haven and most of Old Saybrook south of Interstate 95.
“This is going to be a team effort, this is going to be a very dangerous storm,” New Haven Emergency Management Director Rick Fontana said Saturday afternoon from the city’s emergency operations center. “We may not have seen anything of this magnitude in many years, maybe even 30 or 40 years. This is going to be difficult, it’s going to take a lot of patience.”
Utility officials project 50% to 69% of Eversource’s 1.25 million customers statewide will lose power, a sharp increase from its projections of 30% to 49% on Friday, and officials have warned it could take eight to 21 days to complete restoration efforts after the storm ends.
Gov. Ned Lamont has opened the state’s emergency operations center and asked President Joe Biden for pre-landfall emergency declaration to provide federal assistance for the storm response. He also called in 200 Guardesmen and women to active duty prepare teams and specialized equipment to the support the response.
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said members of the Federal Emergency Management Agency already are staging supplies across the region, including food, medicine and generators from the military base in Westover, Massachusetts, he said Saturday afternoon. FEMA’s personnel will be able to act as “boots on the ground” support in the immediate aftermath of the storm late Sunday and into Monday.
He urged residents to prepare for what emergency management officials have called a “perfect storm” of high winds, heavy rainfall and several feet of storm surge — the last of which may only be compounded by Sunday’s midday high tide.
“I am impressed talking to local officials around the state about their preparations, this may not be a perfect storm, but it’s going to be close to it,” Blumenthal said. “The alarm bells should be ringing loud and clear because this storm is going to pack a powerful punch.”
Forecasters predict the storm will strengthen through the night and is expected to “be at or near hurricane strength” when it finally reaches the coasts of Long Island and Connecticut on Sunday, according to the hurricane center.
Hurricane Henri remained far off the coast of North Carolina at about lunchtime Saturday but is marching north at 17 mph and is expected to pick up speed and strengthen throughout the day and overnight, according to the National Hurricane Center. The track will continue north-northeast throughout the day but is expected to take a turn to the north-northwest — more directly targeting Long Island and Connecticut — early Sunday, forecasters said.
Local first responders and thousands of utility crews staged across the state throughout the day Saturday as grocery stores were packed with residents buying final supplies and long lines stretched around blocks for gas pumps that were beginning to empty in some places by the middle of the afternoon.
Eversource crews and contractors were staging at Crystal Mall in Waterford, the Pratt & Whitney airfield in East Hartford and the Foxwoods Employee Lot in Ledyard as trucks continued to flood into Southern New England to help with the response.
“While we have a massive contingent of line and tree crews from across the country and Canada here and more on the way, customers should be prepared for lengthy outages,” Eversource President of Regional Electric Operations Craig Hallstrom said. “That said, we are singularly focused on our responsibility to restore power as quickly as safely possible for our customers.”
The utility’s dire projection that restorations could take up to three weeks to complete stands in stark contrast to its preparation ahead of Tropical Storm Isaias — during which about 1 million customers lost power and some remained in the dark for nine days, earning the utility the ire of residents, public officials, creditors and regulators.
Blumenthal warned that the utility must prove it has learned from that experience with its response to Henri.
“Eversource owes the people of Connecticut the truth in real time,” Blumenthal said. “Prompt communication and the capacity to restore power and those lines safely and swiftly. We hope that they are indeed as prepared as they say they, but the truth will be and the test will be in action, not just words.”
As much as 3 to 5 feet of storm surge has prompted several sets of evacuation orders across the coast, including mandatory evacuations in the southern part of Madison. Officials in New Haven, Groton and Old Saybrook issued voluntary evacuations for residents and have asked residents to prepare to stay with family or at a hotel first before turning to town-offered shelters.
In New Haven, the voluntary evacuations so far include three areas on the east shore, specifically south of Myron Street; along the Mill River in Fair Haven, specifically at Haven Street and John Murphy Drive; and at City Point, specifically along South Water Street, Mayor Justin Elicker said. In Groton, the evacuations so far include Shore Avenue, Beach Pond Road, Pine Island Road and Jupiter Point Road.
If Hurricane Henri makes landfall in Connecticut, it will be the first hurricane to do so since Hurricane Gloria in 1985.
“We only have so many threats of this magnitude that ever crop up during a year or even a decade,” said Bob Maxon, a meteorologist at NBC Connecticut. “People in their 20s and 30s have never experienced anything like the potential that’s there for Sunday and Monday.”
What can Connecticut expect this weekend?
Rain is expected to start early in the day Sunday, intensify Sunday afternoon and evening and then continue into Monday. Gary Lessor, chief meteorologist at the Western Connecticut State University Weather Center, said he expects Henri’s impact to be similar to that of Hurricane Irene, which did not make landfall in the state but still caused extensive flooding and damage.
The state could see as much as 8 inches of rainfall, he said. Central and western Connecticut will likely see the biggest impacts of rain, while the eastern part of the state will see the biggest impacts of wind.
The shoreline will see wind speeds of 45-65 mph generally, with a possibility of gusts as high as 70 mph. Lessor expects wind gusts in the inland part of the state to range as high as 45-60 mph. The wind will be strongest Sunday morning and early afternoon. Coastal flooding will also be a concern, he said.
“Obviously, stock up. Plan 5 days groceries, minimum,” he said. “Anything loose in the yard, secure it.”
The National Hurricane Center on Friday morning issued a storm surge watch for the entire Connecticut coastline, plus much of Long Island, Rhode Island and Cape Cod. Additionally, the center issued a tropical storm watch for all of Connecticut’s southern counties.
“A decrease in forward speed and a turn toward the north-northwest is expected on Sunday,” according to the National Hurricane Center. “On the forecast track, Henri is expected to make landfall on Long Island or in southern New England on Sunday ... Strengthening is forecast through tonight. Although some weakening is expected prior to landfall on Sunday, Henri is forecast to be at or near hurricane strength when it reaches the coasts of Long Island and southern New England.”
Joe Furey, co-chief meteorologist at WNTH News 8, said: “You plan for the worst, hope for the best, but the trend is not in our favor.”
“The more we look at it the worse it looks. Everyone’s got to get prepared,” he said. Everyone’s got to get the generators gassed up and do what you need to do, knowing you could be out of power for a week.”
Is the state ready?
Nolan said Friday that Eversource’s response would be “all hands on deck,” with more than 4,000 crews from across the country.
“You will see a massive presence of utility people in this state like you’ve never seen before,” Nolan said. “We’ll do everything we possibly can to get everyone back [in power] and get them back safely.”
United Illuminating, which serves communities on the shoreline from Bridgeport to New Haven, also announced it is prepositioning crews and equipment in advance of the storm.
Hartford experienced tremendous flooding on Thursday when the remnants of Tropical Storm Fred dumped 5 inches of rain in a matter of hours and Mayor Luke Bronin said the city is preparing for potentially even more severe impacts from Hurricane Henri.
The city’s public works crews already have been working since Thursday’s storm to clear drains and catch basins to try to prevent flooding and nearly every public works employee is expected to be called in to work by 7 a.m. Sunday ahead of Henri’s biggest impacts. Police and fire crews also will be throughout the city ahead of and during the storm in the event water rescues are required and to secure downed trees, power lines and flooded streets.
Top officials have pleaded with residents to prepare in advance of the storm and to shelter in place once it begins early Sunday.
“Once this storm starts to hit, just stay put. Stay off the roads, don’t move around,” Bronin said Saturday. “Plan to play some board games or pick some good movies to watch. Unless you have to be out and driving around, just stay off the roads, stay home, stay put, let our teams do their work of responding.”
Lamont’s office said state emergency management officials and municipal representatives spoke with the governor Friday afternoon to coordinate preparedness efforts at the state and local levels. Federal Emergency Management Agency officials have also pledged “assistance and resources to support Connecticut’s response and anticipated recovery from the storm,” said the office.
Groton emergency management officials will open Fitch High School at 6 p.m. Saturday for any Groton families seeking shelter from the storm outside of their own homes, officials announced. COVID-19 safety protocols will be in place and face masks will be required inside the shelter. Anyone coming to the shelter should bring their own blankets, pillows, medicines, extra clothes, toiletries and electronics and pets will be permitted.
All state campgrounds will close on Saturday at 4 p.m. through at least Monday afternoon, the DEEP said, and state parks and forests may also close for day use this weekend. The Metropolitan District announced Saturday that its recreation areas around area reservoirs and lakes in West Hartford, Bloomfield, Barkhamsted and Hartland would all be closed for the storm.
Metro-North announced it would suspend service beginning 4 a.m. Sunday and that the last train on the line from Grand Central Terminal will leave at 1:53 a.m. Sunday before the storm starts. The state judicial branch announced jury service would be canceled Monday in the aftermath of the storm.
Michael Passero, mayor of New London, said the city has been testing emergency equipment, prepping an emergency shelter and attempting to track homeless people to ensure their safety during the storm. Passero said all residents are encouraged to shelter in place Sunday.
“Keep your phones charged, stock up on bottled water, make sure that you’re putting away anything that could become a flying projectile in heavy winds,” he said. “Most importantly, during the storm stay off the roads and shelter in place.”
Chris Gasiorek, vice president of watercraft preservation and programs at the Mystic Seaport Museum, said he’s fielded more than 50 calls from panicked boaters seeking harbor before the storm. Located on the upper Mystic River, the museum’s docks often accommodate many community partners’ vessels during hurricanes and tropical storms. But much of that space is taken up by participants in a wooden boat show this weekend, so he’s working to find alternative solutions.
“All these [wooden] boats mostly travel from long distances and will not be able to leave tomorrow into threatening weather,” he said. “Tomorrow afternoon we’ll work with all of them and reposition boats so they’re in the safest positions, make sure the personnel are safe, or [see] if there’s a way we can get people off of boats into a safer location.”
What’s causing the extreme weather?
Connecticut has had an eventful summer of weather, with several heat waves, a wave of storms in mid-July and now a potential hurricane.
“June was third-hottest June in 116 years, July was the third-wettest July in 116 years, so you went from the heat to the wetness,” Furey said. “We just had flooding rains yesterday and now we’re going to bring Henri in.”
Maxon said the heavy rainfall in July, plus the storm Thursday, could exacerbate the threat posed by Tropical Storm Henri.
“You throw [the storm] in with the saturated soil because of the rainy July we had, the third-wettest July on record, we had substantial and significant flooding yesterday, and we’re going to try to throw four-to-six inches of rain into this situation?” Maxon said. “That can lead to a lot of freshwater flooding, power outages and tree damage.”
Experts say extreme weather events are likely to become more common in Connecticut due to the effects of climate change.
Staff writers Zach Murdock and Amanda Blanco contributed to this report.