Henri Threatens Hurricane-Strength Winds From Long Island to Nantucket


Extreme Weather and Climate Updates

Aug. 20, 2021, 3:36 p.m. ET

Aug. 20, 2021, 3:36 p.m. ET

Credit…NOAA

Tropical Storm Henri is poised to become a hurricane by Friday or Saturday and could make landfall in southern New England by late Sunday, meteorologists said on Friday.

Hurricane-strength winds in Northeastern states like Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts would be unusual, should they arrive. The last time a hurricane made landfall in New England was 30 years ago.

By Friday afternoon, Henri was “almost a hurricane,” according to the National Hurricane Center, with maximum sustained winds of 70 miles per hour. The storm was expected to be at or near hurricane strength when it makes landfall on Sunday.

But as Henri stalled and drifted in weak steering winds, its exact path over the weekend remained somewhat uncertain. As of early Friday afternoon, Henri was 320 miles south-southeast of Cape Hatteras, N.C. The storm was moving north-northwest at 6 miles per hour.

Henri, which developed on Monday off the East Coast of the United States, is the latest of three storms that recently formed in the Atlantic Ocean. Most of the attention early this week was on Tropical Depression Fred, which made landfall in the Florida Panhandle on Monday afternoon as a tropical storm, and Hurricane Grace, which came ashore in Haiti as a tropical depression before making landfall in Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula on Thursday as a hurricane. It is now approaching the east coast of Mexico’s mainland.

Henri was expected to turn north on Friday evening and accelerate in that direction through early Sunday.

A hurricane watch was in effect for parts of Long Island, Connecticut and Massachusetts including, Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard, the hurricane center said. A tropical storm watch was also in effect for areas west of Fire Island, N.Y., west of Port Jefferson Harbor, N.Y. and west of New Haven, Conn.

Henri is expected to dump up to five inches of rain over New England on Sunday and Monday, with isolated totals near eight inches. Heavy rainfall across the area could bring some flooding. Some coastal areas could see a storm surge as high as five feet.


How to Decode Hurricane Season Terms

Karen Zraick
Christina Caron

Karen Zraick and Christina CaronReporting on the weather 🌬️

How to Decode Hurricane Season Terms

Karen Zraick
Christina Caron

Karen Zraick and Christina CaronReporting on the weather 🌬️

Emily Kask for The New York Times

What is “landfall”? And what are you truly facing when you’re in the eye of the storm?

During hurricane season, news coverage and forecasts can include a host of confusing terms. Let’s take a look at what they mean

Item 1 of 6

While it is not uncommon for there to be several active weather systems at once during hurricane season, forecasters with the National Hurricane Center said, it is somewhat unusual to have three with tropical storm watches or warnings for land areas at the same time.

“It’s a busy period here,” Michael Brennan, the branch chief of the center’s hurricane specialist unit, said on Monday.

The links between hurricanes and climate change are becoming more apparent. A warming planet can expect to see stronger hurricanes over time, and a higher incidence of the most powerful storms — though the overall number of storms could drop, because factors like stronger wind shear could keep weaker storms from forming.

Hurricanes are also becoming wetter because of more water vapor in the warmer atmosphere; scientists have suggested storms like Hurricane Harvey in 2017 produced far more rain than they would have without the human effects on climate. Also, rising sea levels are contributing to higher storm surge — the most destructive element of tropical cyclones.

A major United Nations climate report released this month warned that nations have delayed curbing their fossil-fuel emissions for so long that they can no longer stop global warming from intensifying over the next 30 years, leading to more frequent life-threatening heat waves and severe droughts. Tropical cyclones have likely become more intense over the past 40 years, the report said, a shift that cannot be explained by natural variability alone.

Ana became the first named storm of the season on May 23, making this the seventh year in a row that a named storm developed in the Atlantic before the official start of the season on June 1.

In May, scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecast that there would be 13 to 20 named storms this year, six to 10 of which would be hurricanes, and three to five major hurricanes of Category 3 or higher in the Atlantic. In early August, in a midseason update to the forecast, they continued to warn that this year’s hurricane season will be an above average one, suggesting a busy end to the season.

Matthew Rosencrans, of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said that an updated forecast suggested that there would be 15 to 21 named storms, including seven to 10 hurricanes, by the end of the season on Nov. 30. Henri is the eighth named storm of 2021.

Last year, there were 30 named storms, including six major hurricanes, forcing meteorologists to exhaust the alphabet for the second time and move to using Greek letters.

It was the highest number of storms on record, surpassing the 28 from 2005, and included the second-highest number of hurricanes on record.

Derrick Bryson Taylor, Neil Vigdor, Jesus Jiménez and Jacey Fortin contributed reporting.

breaking

Crews used a pump on Thursday to clear a parking lot in Lynn, Mass., that was flooded by heavy rain from the remnants of Tropical Storm Fred. A more powerful storm is headed for the region this weekend. 
Credit…Cj Gunther/EPA, via Shutterstock

Massachusetts residents can expect a three- to five-foot storm surge along the coast, tropical storm-force winds and loss of power to as many as 300,000 homes over the weekend, Gov. Charlie Baker warned on Friday, as the state braced for what is forecast to be the first hurricane to make landfall in New England in 30 years.

Governor Baker said he had activated as many as 1,000 members of the state’s National Guard to assist in high-water rescues and in clearing debris. He did not call for evacuations, but advised drivers to put off travel to Cape Cod that they had planned for Saturday, and to avoid being on the roads during the brunt of the storm on Sunday and Monday.

“We all need to take this storm extremely seriously,” the governor said at a news conference. “The simple point here is, we really would like everybody to be off the road at the height of this storm.”

The storm, Henri, is forecast to make landfall in southern New England on Sunday as a strong tropical storm or possibly as a Category 1 hurricane if its sustained winds exceed 74 miles an hour. But its track is still uncertain, and it could also hit Long Island or swerve out to sea.

A Friday morning update from the National Hurricane Center warned of “life-threatening inundation from rising water moving inland from the coastline” in an area stretching from Long Island to Cape Cod, and said there would be “large and dangerous waves” along the coast.

Flooding was expected in Boston, where officials said they were building barriers around the city’s most vulnerable subway station and would suspend some transit services on Sunday.

Massachusetts saw heavy rains on Thursday that quickly inundated roads, requiring emergency workers to retrieve people from cars caught in high water. Governor Baker offered a pointed warning to motorists not to take a chance by driving into water.

“In a storm like this, people should turn around and not drown,” he said. “In other words, don’t drive into the giant puddles that will exist on many roads around the commonwealth.”

In 1991, Hurricane Bob tore its way up the East Coast, making landfall as a Category 2 storm and causing significant damage on Long Island and in Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. More than a dozen people died in the storm, and millions more were affected by downed trees, winds of up to 100 miles an hour, power outages and flooding.

Credit…National Weather Service

Adam Sobel is a professor and director of the Initiative on Extreme Weather and Climate at Columbia University. He is an atmospheric scientist and host of the Deep Convection podcast.

There is a good chance that Tropical Storm Henri will make landfall as a hurricane in Massachusetts, Rhode Island or Connecticut in the next few days, which would make it the first hurricane landfall in New England since Hurricane Bob in 1991.

Landfall is expected on Sunday or Monday, but the forecast has been highly uncertain.

Over the past day or so, Henri has been kept from intensifying by substantial vertical shear in the Atlantic Ocean — different winds at different altitudes are keeping it from standing upright. But the exact degree of this suppressing effect has varied between models, affecting the forecast.

Models that project Henri to strengthen more quickly have pushed it closer to the Atlantic Coast in the near term, predicting a stronger hurricane that makes landfall further west, possibly even in New Jersey or New York City. Models that expect Henri to remain weaker project it to make landfall in New England, or even remain offshore until reaching Canada.

A weaker, more tilted storm would be mostly steered by the large-scale winds in the lower atmosphere, which have been blowing from south to north. A stronger, more vertically stacked storm would feel the upper atmospheric winds to a greater degree, and those have been blowing from east to west.

Before Henri makes landfall, wherever that is, relaxing of the shear will probably allow the storm to strengthen into a hurricane over the warm subtropical Atlantic waters that have been made a bit warmer by climate change. The National Hurricane Center’s intensity forecast never projects the storm to grow beyond a Category 1 hurricane.

As recent aircraft reconnaissance flights have pinned down Henri’s intensity and structure, the models have begun to agree a bit more, making landfall in either New England or Long Island look most likely. But some uncertainty remains as Henri stalls and drifts in weak steering winds.

A hurricane watch was in effect for parts of eastern Long Island, Connecticut and Massachusetts, including Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard, the center said on Friday morning. A tropical storm watch was in effect for areas of Long Island west of Fire Island Inlet and Port Jefferson Harbor, and Connecticut west of New Haven.

Henri is expected to dump up to five inches of rain over New England on Sunday and Monday, with isolated areas receiving nearly eight inches. Heavy rainfall across the area could bring some flooding. Some coastal areas could see storm surge as high as five feet.

A left turn — vaguely Sandy-like, but less dramatic — is possible, with a landfall point that would probably still be on Long Island. Landfall in New Jersey or New York City now appears unlikely, but it is not entirely out of the question. Everyone near the coast from New Jersey to Maine should be keeping a close eye on the forecast.

A house in Staten Island where only the foundation was left after a tidal surge from Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

Adam Sobel is a professor and director of the Initiative on Extreme Weather and Climate at Columbia University. He is an atmospheric scientist and host of the Deep Convection podcast.

There are some striking similarities between Tropical Storm Henri, which is forecast to become a hurricane before making landfall along the Northeast coast this weekend, and Hurricane Sandy, which devastated parts of New York and New Jersey in 2012.

At the same time, there are some very important differences that will probably affect the track and impact of Henri. New York City, in particular, is not at great risk this time, though some forecast models still show Henri turning west and making landfall there.

There’s a reason that hurricanes rarely reach New York or New England, where none has made landfall in the 30 years since Hurricane Bob in 1991. As storms drift north, they get caught up in the prevailing winds at higher latitudes. These winds generally blow from west to east (unlike tropical winds, which generally blow the opposite way), and push hurricanes out to sea, away from the Eastern Seaboard.

Something has to break that pattern before the Northeast can get a direct hit.

What can do that? Either a high-pressure system offshore to the east of the storm, or a low-pressure system approaching from the land to the west, or both, can drive a hurricane northward rather than eastward. When those conditions occur, the south-facing parts of the coast — from Long Island to Cape Cod — become the most likely landfall area, as it is for Henri.

Similar meteorological situations have been responsible for most, if not all, of the hurricane landfalls in the area, like the 1938 “Long Island Express” storm and several hurricanes in the 1950s. Those events prompted the building of storm surge barriers in Stamford, Conn., Providence, R.I., and New Bedford, Mass.

Sandy was an extreme case. An approaching low-pressure system was strong enough to cause Sandy to revolve around it (and vice versa) as the two systems merged in what is called the Fujiwhara effect. This process strengthened Sandy and slung it westward, resulting in the “left hook” that brought the storm into the New Jersey shore at nearly a right angle. No other storm is known to have done that.

A similar configuration is developing now: An approaching upper-level low-pressure system is predicted to do a Sandy-like dance with Henri. But it doesn’t look as though the Fujiwhara effect will be powerful enough this time to sling Henri as far west as Sandy turned, nor is it likely to give Henri the strength of Sandy, which reached Category 3 at one point. (By the time Sandy came ashore, it was back down to Category 1, which Henri is predicted to be at landfall.)

Beyond that, Sandy was an extremely large storm. Its size and westward track conspired to drive a catastrophic surge of seawater into New York Harbor. With Henri looking less extreme in both respects, a major disaster for New York City and New Jersey is unlikely this time.

There are reasons to hope that Henri won’t actually be disastrous anywhere. It is forecast to slow down and weaken before landfall. But it is too early to say that with confidence.

At this point, preparation and vigilance are very much in order, especially on Long Island and across southeastern New England.

Soldiers with the Mexican army patrolled a beach on Thursday after Hurricane Grace struck in Playa del Carmen, Mexico.
Credit…Marco Ugarte/Associated Press

Grace, which gained strength on Friday to become a hurricane as it passed over the Gulf of Mexico, is expected to strike the eastern coast of Mexico’s mainland on Friday night.

The National Hurricane Center warned that preparations to protect life and property should be rushed in the hurricane warning area, which included the coast of mainland Mexico from Puerto Veracruz to Cabo Rojo. A tropical storm warning was in effect north of Cabo Rojo to Barra del Tordo.

The storm thrashed the Yucatán Peninsula as a hurricane on Thursday, bringing strong winds, heavy rain, power failures and hundreds of evacuations before it weakened to a tropical storm. It became a hurricane again early Friday.

Just days earlier, the same storm had brought flooding to Haiti, hurting recovery efforts after a devastating earthquake struck the country on Saturday.

Early Friday afternoon, Grace was about 145 miles northeast of Veracruz, Mexico, with maximum sustained winds of 90 miles per hour, according to the National Hurricane Center.

The Yucatán Peninsula, which was struck on Thursday, is no stranger to storms during hurricane season. Last August, Tropical Storm Marco skimmed the tip of it, and in October, Hurricane Delta and Hurricane Zeta struck the peninsula, knocking out power, felling trees, shattering windows and causing flooding along the Caribbean coast.

Now, the Mexican mainland is preparing for strong winds and pouring rain as the storm moves west at about 10 miles per hour.

Parts of central Mexico could get six to 12 inches of rain, with isolated maximum totals of 18 inches, from Friday through Sunday, the center said. That could cause flooding and mudslides. Water levels could rise by four to six feet along the coast because of the storm surge, which could also produce “large and destructive waves.”

Earlier this week, the storm brought sharp winds and pelting rain to survivors of the 7.2-magnitude earthquake that struck Haiti on Saturday and killed more than 2,000 people.

Grace’s arrival there intensified the need for help in recovering from the earthquake. Videos circulating on social media showed heavy rain pummeling towns and villages overnight and on Monday, bringing the risk of flash floods and landslides.

Grace is the seventh named storm of the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season, following several days of floods and power outages unleashed this week by Fred. That storm made landfall on Monday afternoon in the Florida Panhandle and moved inland across the southeast and Mid-Atlantic.

A third Atlantic storm, Henri, formed on Monday afternoon as a tropical storm off the East Coast of the United States, becoming the eighth named storm of the hurricane season. It was tracking 320 miles south-southeast of Cape Hatteras, N.C., on Friday afternoon and was expected to gain hurricane strength before approaching southern New England on Sunday or Monday.


How to Decode Hurricane Season Terms

Karen Zraick
Christina Caron

Karen Zraick and Christina CaronReporting on the weather 🌬️

How to Decode Hurricane Season Terms

Karen Zraick
Christina Caron

Karen Zraick and Christina CaronReporting on the weather 🌬️

Emily Kask for The New York Times

What is “landfall”? And what are you truly facing when you’re in the eye of the storm?

During hurricane season, news coverage and forecasts can include a host of confusing terms. Let’s take a look at what they mean

Item 1 of 6

The links between hurricanes and climate change are becoming more apparent. A warming planet can expect to experience stronger hurricanes over time, and a higher incidence of the most powerful storms. However, the overall number of storms could drop, because factors like stronger wind shear could keep weaker storms from forming.

Hurricanes are also becoming wetter because of more water vapor in the warmer atmosphere; scientists have suggested storms like Hurricane Harvey in 2017 produced far more rain than they would have without the human effects on climate. Also, rising sea levels are contributing to higher storm surge — the most destructive element of tropical cyclones.

A major United Nations climate report released this month warned that nations have delayed curbing their fossil-fuel emissions for so long that they can no longer stop global warming from intensifying over the next 30 years, leading to more frequent life-threatening heat waves and severe droughts. Tropical cyclones have become more intense over the past 40 years, the report said, a shift that cannot be explained by natural variability alone.

In May, scientists with NOAA forecast that there would be 13 to 20 named storms this year, six to 10 of which would be hurricanes, and three to five major hurricanes of Category 3 or higher in the Atlantic. This month, in a midseason update to the forecast, they continued to warn that this year’s hurricane season would be above average, suggesting a busy end to the season.

Matthew Rosencrans of NOAA said that an updated forecast suggested there would be 15 to 21 named storms, including seven to 10 hurricanes, by the end of the season on Nov. 30.

Last year, there were 30 named storms, including six major hurricanes, forcing meteorologists to exhaust the alphabet for the second time and move to Greek letters.

It was the highest number of storms on record, surpassing the 28 from 2005, and included the second-highest number of hurricanes on record.

Alyssa Lukpat, Jacey Fortin, Jesus Jiménez, Neil Vigdor, Maria Abi-Habib, Andre Paulte, Derrick Bryson Taylor, Anatoly Kurmanaev, Oscar Lopez and Constant Méheut contributed reporting.

Correction: 

An earlier version of this article misidentified the Mexican state where Carlos Joaquín serves as governor. It is Quintana Roo, not Yucatán.

Battling hot spots on the front of the Caldor fire near Pacific, Calif., on Wednesday.
Credit…Max Whittaker for The New York Times

As another day of wildfire fighting began in California on Friday, fire crews were seeing a few glimmers of hope. Smoke from the Caldor fire raging southwest of Lake Tahoe had been helping to choke off the spread of flames, for instance, and the pace of evacuations was easing.

But the state’s battle against summer wildfires is far from over.

Many of the biggest blazes around California were still far less than 50 percent contained as of Friday morning. Fire crews were stretched precariously thin. The air quality around Sacramento and San Francisco, battered by wildfire smoke, was expected to remain poor. And officials warned that it could be days or weeks before people evacuated from the Caldor fire were allowed back into their homes.

That fire has grown to more than 68,000 acres since it began over the weekend, according to Cal Fire, the state’s fire fighting agency. It remained completely uncontained on Thursday, even though more than 650 people were fighting it. The fire has destroyed more than 100 structures and still threatens about 7,000 others.

More than 20,000 people in El Dorado County have been told to leave their homes or to prepare to do so, according to the governor’s office. A Cal Fire official, Dusty Martin, said at a community meeting on Thursday that he expected mandatory evacuation orders for the Caldor fire to “last for a little while — at least a week, maybe upwards of two weeks.”

The nearby Dixie fire, which has burned about 700,000 acres, an area about nine-tenths the size of Rhode Island, also remains a serious threat — even after burning for more than a month. As of Friday morning it was just over one-third contained and still threatened more than 16,000 structures. Three firefighters have been injured while working that blaze, and a local television station reported that 13 of them had tested positive for Covid-19.

In Southern California, a new fire that started on Wednesday in Kern County, north of Los Angeles, quickly consumed more than 3,000 acres and prompted fresh evacuation orders. That blaze, known as the French fire, was only 5 percent contained on Thursday.

The California fires are among dozens that have been stretching emergency agencies across the western United States this month. Even though some fire crews have made significant progress in recent weeks, the prevailing weather conditions in many areas — low humidity, dry ground and high winds — are a recipe for further flames and destruction.

The fire potential in most of California’s mountains and foothills is forecast to be higher than normal through September, and through October in areas prone to offshore winds, the National Interagency Fire Center said last week.

The United States Forest Service said on Thursday that it would close nine national forests in California to the public for two weeks, starting next week, to help protect residents and fire crews working in the area. Some of the backcountry around Lake Tahoe was also closed on Thursday for at least a month.

A closure earlier this week of the Eldorado national forest, where the Caldor fire has been burning, “was not taken very lightly,” said Jeff Marsolais, the forest supervisor there.

“It was about trying to keep you out of the way from this spreading fire,” he told the community meeting on Thursday night. “It’s about evacuations, it’s about stretched resources and our inability to keep pace with the fire that was, at the time, growing 40,000 to 45,000 acres in a single burning period.”

Research published this past week found that weakened immune response caused by exposure to wildfire smoke last summer could be associated with thousands of additional infections and hundreds of deaths from Covid-19.
Credit…Rogelio V. Solis/Associated Press

As the Dixie Fire rages in California, plumes of noxious smoke have turned the air as far afield as Salt Lake City and Denver into some of the dirtiest in the world. Fires across western Canada and the Pacific Northwest last month turned the sun red as far away as New York City.

The smoky haze carries with it a range of health threats from mild eye and throat irritation to serious heart and respiratory issues that pose an especially high risk when compounded with similar symptoms caused by Covid-19. Research published this past week found that weakened immune response caused by exposure to wildfire smoke last summer could be associated with thousands of additional infections and hundreds of deaths from Covid-19.

Although smoke exposure and the coronavirus pose similar risks, protecting yourself from each requires different measures: cloth masks used to slow the spread of the virus offer little protection against the small, harmful particles in wildfire smoke, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

With hundreds of thousands of acres burning across the West, and fire season far from over, here’s a guide to how to keep yourself safe.

The wildfire smoke currently blanketing much of the West contains a mixture of gases and particles from burning trees and plants. The smallest of these particles — 2.5 micrometers and smaller, which are called PM 2.5 — can be inhaled into the deepest part of the lungs, and can cause the greatest health risks.

When people are exposed to these fine particles repeatedly or for long periods of time, they can be at greater risk of health problems. With fires sparking more often, lasting longer and spreading farther, those risks grow.

“We’re being exposed to more wildfires than ever,” said Mary Prunicki, an expert on the health effects of air pollution at Stanford University. “When a community is exposed to wildfire smoke, there will be an increase in respiratory disorders showing up in the emergency room and people being hospitalized with asthma and C.O.P.D. It exacerbates pneumonia, acute bronchitis.”

Wildfire exposure can also heighten the risk of strokes and create complications with pregnancies.

Credit…Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Because of the small size of PM 2.5, most masks will not do much to protect you from its toxins. According to the C.D.C., N95 and KN95 respirators can provide protection from both wildfire smoke and the coronavirus. But because of the limited supply of N95 respirators, the C.D.C. does not recommend their use outside of health care settings.

The best protection against smoke is to limit exposure.

“Don’t go by whether or not you can smell it,” said Ms. Prunicki, who also advised to limit physical activity outside. “Try not to do things that are going to cause you to breathe deeply,” she said.

Keep your house as protected from smoke as possible by keeping the windows closed and use a portable air cleaner. Create a “clean room”— a dedicated room in your house where you can keep windows and doors closed, and run fans, air-conditioners and portable air cleaners — and spend as much time there as possible.

Track the A.Q.I., or Air Quality Index, to ensure the air quality is within a healthy range before spending time outside.

The Air Quality Index was established by the Environmental Protection Agency, and measures the density of five pollutants: ground-level ozone, particulates, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide.

The index runs from 0 to 500. If it shows a number that’s less than 100, then air pollution is below the level known to cause adverse health effects. When the index registers more than 100, the outdoor air remains safe for many, but some people, like older adults, children and those with heart and lung disease, are at increased risk. A number above 200 is considered “very unhealthy.”

You can find the A.Q.I. in your area on the website AirNow, which is run by the E.P.A. and also has separate fire and smoke maps.





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