PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Tropical Storm Henri rolled across Block Island before making landfall Sunday in the Rhode Island town of Westerly while blasting much of the Northeast with high winds, dangerous storm surge and record-smashing rainfall.
Henri had weakened earlier in the day from hurricane status but remained an imposing storm, lashing the coast with winds of 60 mph and producing 19-foot waves.
Tropical-storm-force winds extended up to 125 miles. The slow-moving storm could drop a foot of rain in some places, the National Hurricane Center warned. A tornado or two was even possible across parts of southern New England.
“Storm surge, rainfall and wind hazards will extend far from the center,” senior hurricane specialist Daniel Brown warned. “This is a life-threatening situation.”
More than 21 million people were under tropical storm warnings. Henri was forecast to slow down and possibly stall near the Connecticut-New York border Sunday night, followed by an east-northeastward motion across northern Connecticut and southern Massachusetts on Monday. Slower forward speed means the storm will linger longer, dumping excessive rain as it passes.
“Dangerous storm surge, strong gusty winds, and flooding rainfall are expected across portions of the Northeastern United States,” the hurricane center said.
The storm was pummeling the region well before landfall. Saturday was the wettest day in New York City in seven years, the National Weather Service said. The 1.94 inches of rain that fell in Central Park from 10 p.m. to 11 p.m. was the wettest hour in the city’s history.
“More rain fell in that one hour than any other since record keeping began,” the National Weather Service in the city tweeted.
Rhode Island Gov. Dan McKee said the state was being hit hard. About 80,000 homes and businesses were without power early Sunday afternoon, according to the website poweroutage.us. Up to 300,000 people, more than a quarter of the state’s population, could lose power before the storm passes, McKee said.
“Yesterday I asked you to prepare for the storm; today I’m asking you to stay home,” McKee said. “If you venture out, you are not only putting your own life at risk, but you are endangering first responders.”
State Police Col. James Manni said he observed most people were following orders to shelter in place in coastal communities but said surfers who ignored the warnings were “a major challenge to safety.”
“Asking all surfers to use your head and don’t go in the water,” Manni said.
Collette Chisholm, who has lived in Westerly for 20 years, said the waves were much higher than normal but said she wasn’t concerned about her home suffering extensive damage.
“I love storms,” she said. “I think they’re exciting, as long as no one gets hurt.”
Narragansett housemates Lindsay Agvent and Shayna Fidler, both 22, watched the pounding surf from the patio of the Coast Guard House.
“It’s the most wind I’ve ever seen at least,” Agvent said. “We’ve lost power and our neighbors have some trees down.”
Rainfall of 3 to 6 inches over portions of Long Island, New England, southeast New York, New Jersey and northeast Pennsylvania was expected into Monday, and isolated maximum totals could approach 12 inches, the hurricane center said.
Cranbury, N.J., was blasted with almost 9 inches of rain by Sunday morning. In New York, Brooklyn had more than 6 inches, Central Park almost 5 inches. Residents and visitors on Fire Island, a narrow strip of sandy villages barely above sea level off Long Island’s southern coast, were urged to evacuate.
The severe weather cut short a superstar-laden concert Saturday in Central Park. The show headlined by Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon and Jennifer Hudson celebrated New York City’s recovery from the coronavirus. But officials asked concertgoers to leave the park during Barry Manilow’s set amid the threat of lightning.
“While it’s disappointing that tonight’s concert had to end early, the safety of everyone in attendance had to come first,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Twitter.
Gov. Ned Lamont warned Connecticut residents they should prepare to shelter in place from Sunday afternoon through at least Monday morning. The state has more power crews than ever before prepared to help restore outages. About 25,000 had been reported Sunday afternoon.
“We are following the flooding possibilities very closely,” Lamont added at a news conference.
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Boston Mayor Kim Janey also urged residents to stay home, and if travel was necessary to take public transportation. She said the city expected damaging winds, power outages, storm surge flooding and flooding.
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker activated the National Guard for water rescues, debris clearing and public safety support. The activation order allows for up to 1,000 guardsmen and will remain in place until support is no longer needed, he said.
Bacon reported from Arlington, Va. Contributing: Noori Farzan, The Providence Journal; The Associated Press