The Block Island Times

Island escapes hurricane 'unscathed,' Irene causes mass power outages on the mainland

By Dan West | Aug 24, 2011
Irene from the International Space Station
Video cameras on the International Space Station have caught views of the hurricane. (Video by: NASA)

Hurricane Irene passed through the Northeast on Sunday, Aug. 28, causing widespread power outages and flooding around New England. Block Island, however, escaped with only minor wind damage and limited electrical interruptions.

“Compared to the Connecticut shore, I think we made it out pretty much unscathed,” Town Manager Nancy Dodge said. “I think everyone did an excellent job preparing people for the storm; it was a very successful response.”

Dodge said that apart from a few reports of downed trees, minor power outages and flooding on Coast Guard Road, the island received little damage. Corn Neck Road, which was in line to suffer the worst of the storm surges, made it through with no damage.

According to Harbormaster Stephen Land, there were no incidents in the harbors. Land credited the preparation of the Harbors Department and the early warning delivered to boaters for keeping the harbors relatively empty during the storm.

“We did not have a single problem whatsoever,” Land said. “Now that the storm is passed, the harbor is filling up again. I think it will be back to business as usual by the weekend.”

The Block Island Ferry resumed services on Monday afternoon, Aug. 29. Its website warned that it was still not able to accept credit card payments. "Bring cash!" the update urged.

Irene knocked out power for roughly 7 million people, according to the Associated Press, with more than 5 million people still in the dark. More than 280,000 Rhode Island customers — around 60 percent of the state — were without electricity on Monday afternoon, and more than 100,000 were still without power as of Wednesday, according to the Providence Journal.

The top spots to lose power around the state: “Warwick (60 percent without power), Pawtucket (52 percent), Cranston (46 percent), Coventry (89 percent) and Newport (89 percent) had the largest number of customers without power,” reported the Journal.

The Department of Environmental Management closed all of its parks and beaches on Monday in order to “assess damage, evaluate public safety concerns and begin the clean-up so that state recreation facilities can be re-opened as soon as possible.”

The storm drew people out to witness it all around Block Island on Sunday afternoon, as the perceived danger seemed to lessen as the storm passed. Police were out calling spectators off the breakwater near Ballard's, where they were watching big waves roll in from the south to crash along the beach and sweep over the breakwater.

Dodge said she was pleased with the town’s preparation and response, but said that later in the week a meeting with various parties responsible for the town’s storm response will be held to evaluate ways to improve the island’s hurricane plan in the future.

* * * * * * *

SUNDAY  12:30 PM — Tropical Storm Irene has passed Block Island, but high winds will persist for the rest of the evening. The storm has blown down trees and branches around the island; however, unlike much of Rhode Island, power has remained on.

Over 170,000 mainland Rhode Islanders are without power and there has been one fatality from the storm in the state. On Block Island people were out and about from the Old Harbor breakwater to the Mohegan Bluffs watching the storm swells.

SUNDAY 11 AM — Irene has been downgraded to a tropical storm. Block Island will continue  to experience 50 knot sustained wind for several hours according to the National Hurricane Center.

SUNDAY 9AM — The eye of Hurricane Irene is passing over Long Island as a category 1 storm with sustained winds of 75 mph. The National Weather Service has put out a tornado watch for Block Island until 11 a.m.

Block Island is currently experiencing  tropical storm speed wind of 38 mph and has seen gusts of over 50 mph. As Irene moves northeast the island has a 40 percent probability of seeing sustained wind of 75 mph.

SATURDAY 5PM — Island businesses have been preparing all day for the coming arrival of Hurricane Irene. Many have boarded up their windows and doors including the Beachead Restaurant and Dead Eyes Dicks, both of which are in especially vulnerable locations.

Irene has passed the Outer Banks and will be moving along the Virginia coast for the next several hours. She remains a category 1 hurricane with 80 mph sustained winds. The storm may be down graded to a tropical storm before reaching Block Island.

The National Hurricane Center gives a 71 percent probability it will be a tropical storm within 48 hours, with only a 26 percent chance it will still be a hurricane; however, hurricane speed gusts and storm surges are still expected.

SATURDAY 2PM — Hurricane Irene's eye is passing the Outer Banks heading north at 15 mph. Irene is a category 1 hurricane with 85 mph winds. The storm has caused the death of at least three people and has caused mandatory evacuations of several Rhode Island towns.

The last ferry leaving Block Island for Point Judith left at 2 p.m. and will not resume service until "conditions permit." The last ferry leaving the island is at 5 p.m. for Montauk, New York.

SATURDAY 1PM — President Obama declared a state-of-emergency for Rhode Island this afternoon. Federal aid will be used to support state and local efforts to deal with the impact of Hurricane Irene.

The federal government has declared a state of emergency for New England states from Connecticut to Massachusetts.

SATURDAY 11AM — President Obama has declared a state-of-emergency for New York and Connecticut, but has yet to do so for Rhode Island. The National Hurricane center maintains that Irene will remain a hurricane until Sunday afternoon.

The outer edge of Irene has already reached Rhode Island; winds and ocean swells will build throughout the day. The eye of the storm is expected to pass over Long Island between 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. tomorrow.

Ocean swells were around eight feet this morning, will build to to over 10 feet by the afternoon and are predicted to increase to 17 feet by early Sunday morning, said the National Weather Service.

SATURDAY 8AM — Hurricane Irene has weakened to a category 1 hurricane with sustained winds of 90 mph as it passes the Outer Banks. The National Hurricane Center is still predicting that Irene will be a hurricane with sustained winds of 80 to 90 mph as it passes Block Island on Sunday.

According to the NHC Block Island has a 90 percent probability of experiencing sustained winds of tropical storm strength and a 60 percent chance of seeing winds greater than 50 knots.

Several Rhode Island towns have ordered a mandatory evacuation of low-lying areas — Charlestown (beginning at 5 p.m. Saturday), Bristol and Westerly (6 p.m. Saturday), Jamestown, (the Fort Getty campground cleared by noon Saturday), Narragansett and South Kingstown (by 10 a.m. Sunday). No such evacuation has been ordered on Block Island though boaters were strongly suggested to find a safer harbor to ride out the storm.

FRIDAY 8PM — Hurricane Irene remains on its path to impact Block Island on Sunday Morning. It is currently lashing the Outer Banks as a category 2 hurricane and is projected to hug the coast as it continues to track north.

Hurricane Irene will likely strike Block Island as a weak category 1 hurricane; however, according to Cary Mock, an associate geography professor at the University of South Carolina who spoke with Reuters, while the storm will not have wind speeds to rival Hurricane Bob it is much larger in size and will affect over 40 million people.

"it's about Hurricane Katrina-size, which is big," Mock told Reuters. "The storm surge is dependent not just on the winds but on the size."

FRIDAY 5PM — The National Hurricane Center has issued a hurricane warning for Block Island, as well as Long Island and Cape Cod. Hurricane Irene is moving up the coast and it's outer edge has already made land fall in North Carolina.

The NHC is predicting that Irene will reach Block Island as a category 1 hurricane with wind speed between 80 and 90mph before weakening to a tropical storm by Sunday afternoon.

The Block Island ferry added three additional boats today to accommodate the island visitors leaving the island before Irene hits. Some businesses began to board up their windows, while surfers took advantage of the pre-storm swell.

HURRICANE WARNING: An announcement that hurricane conditions (sustained winds of 74 mph or higher) are expected somewhere within the specified coastal area. Because hurricane preparedness activities become difficult once winds reach tropical storm force, the hurricane warning is issued 36 hours in advance of the anticipated onset of tropical-storm-force winds.

FRIDAY 2PM — The Surf Hotel is boarding up its windows in preparation for the arrival of Hurricane Irene, currently a category 2 storm. The normal crowd of vessels in New Harbor has thinned considerably as boaters have begun to seek shelter from the coming storm.

The National Hurricane Center continues to predict that a category 1 hurricane will make landfall to the west of Block Island on Sunday; however, the models will continue to be adjusted as the storm moves up the coast.

FRIDAY 1:20PM — Governor Lincoln Chafee declared a state-of-emergency for Rhode Island this afternoon, as Hurricane Irene continues to churn up the coast. Chafee made a statement at the state Emergency Management Agency saying, "This is a major storm and there is no question that it will affect Rhode Island."

At the same time U.S. Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse with Representatives James Langevin and David Cicilline wrote a letter to President Obama "urging expedited approval of any forthcoming request for additional federal assistance."

FRIDAY 12:30PM —The outer bands of Hurricane Irene began to hit the Outer Banks of North Carolina today around noon. Satellite images show the hurricane with an especially strong storm band along its leading eastern edge.

The New London Ferry has been cancelled for Saturday and Sunday, but will be running its regular schedule today. The Montauk Viking has been cancelled for Sunday and Monday, the last ferry off the island is Saturday at 5 p.m.

Interstate Navigation has posted a notice on its website  warning that there will be a "disruption in our ferry service, due to Hurricane Irene, sometime Saturday afternoon through Monday."

FRIDAY 11AM — Hurricane Irene weakened slightly this morning to a Category 2 hurricane with sustained winds of 105 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center. The NHC is predicting a 30 percent chance that the island will experience sustained winds of hurricane strength. It gives the island a 50 percent chance of having sustained winds exceeding 50 knots and a 70 percent change of tropical storm strength winds.

Irene has not strayed from its predicted path, with the eye still heading toward the center of Long Island. The NHC has extended its hurricane warning area to include western Long Island. Irene will likely pass over Block Island in the early afternoon on Sunday as a category 1 hurricane, based on the latest NHC data.

FRIDAY 8AM — The National Hurricane Center has issued a hurricane watch from Long Island to Maine, with Hurricane Irene now a category 2 storm with sustained winds of 109 mph.

The eye of Hurricane Irene is projected to pass over the center of Long Island, exposing Block Island to the eastern half of the storm. Irene is predicted to strengthen by Saturday afternoon, increasing its sustained wind speeds to 120mph before losing steam as it reaches New England. The NHC is predicting a maximum windspeed of 100mph on Sunday morning just before it makes landfall in New York.

HURRICANE WATCH (ACCORDING TO NHC): An announcement that hurricane conditions (sustained winds of 74 mph or higher) are possible within the specified coastal area. Because hurricane preparedness activities become difficult once winds reach tropical storm force, the hurricane watch is issued 48 hours in advance of the anticipated onset of tropical-storm-force winds.

THURSDAY 11PM — Hurricane Irene remains a category 3 storm with sustained winds of 115 mph. It is tracking due north toward the Outer Banks of North Carolina. There are hurricane watches and warnings for most of the east coast as far north as western Long Island.

Irene is expected to reach Block Island on Sunday afternoon as a category 1 hurricane with winds exceeding 85 mph according to the Nation Hurricane Center.

THURSDAY 8PM — Ensemble models of hurricane Irene's path show it making landfall in the northeast from New York City to as far east as Martha's Vineyard (see photo). The National Hurricane Center (NHC) still predicts that the storm's eye will pass to the west of Block Island.

The NHC shows a 70 percent chance that Block Island will sustain tropical storm speed wind and a 30 percent chance it will see hurricane strength wind.

THURSDAY 5PM — The NHC has put out a hurricane watch for much of the east coast, from Virginia to western Long Island. The eye of Hurricane Irene is still projected to pass over Long Island to the west of Block Island Sunday afternoon.

The NHC projects a 45 percent chance that Irene will still be a hurricane as it passes the island, with a 38 percent propability it will be a tropical storm. The most likely sustained wind speeds will be between 80 and 90mph according to the NHC.

* * * * * * *

Hurricane Irene, on Thursday a Category 3 storm with sustained winds of 115 mph, was heading toward the North Carolina coast with its sights set on the Northeast.

The National Hurricane Center predicted Thursday that Irene would turn north, making landfall on the Outer Banks Saturday morning. The model showed the storm skirting the coast and hitting Block Island on Sunday, after weakening to a Category 1 or 2 storm. The eye of the storm was forecast to make landfall to the west of the island closer to New York City, while the eastern half of the hurricane would pass over the island. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the highest wind speeds with the greatest potential for damaging storm surges lie in the eastern half of hurricanes.

“The worst-case scenario is this storm is no worse than Bob,” Town Manager Nancy Dodge said, referring to the hurricane that came through New England in 1991. “We can handle a Category 1 fairly well; Category 2 and beyond is when it started to get dicey.”

Dodge said that the town does not plan to open a hurricane shelter, but advises that visitors monitor the weather and consider finding accommodations on the mainland. A copy of the town’s hurricane planning guide can be found on its website.

The storm’s project landfall would coincide with a new moon high tide, which increases the danger from storm surges and the possibility of flooding.

Interstate Navigation Security Director Bill McCombe said that the ferry company is still evaluating the forecasts, but said an interruption of service was possible from Saturday evening through Sunday.

McCombe said Interstate Navigation is planning to add additional ferry service before the storm to accommodate visitors who wish to leave the island. He advised that anyone planning to leave Saturday afternoon through Sunday change arrangements to depart on Friday. The ferries are often moved to sheltered locations in either Point Judith or Connecticut in the event of large storms.

The Viking Ferry that travels between Block Island and Montauk has announced that it will stop running its service at 5 p.m. on Saturday and will remain offline through Monday.

Block Island Power Company CEO Cliff McGinnes Sr. advised anyone staying on the island to unplug their computers and electronics during the storm to protect them from possible power surges. McGinnes said BIPCo would likely shut down the different island circuits as the storm reaches the island. He said that they would keep the downtown area and the marinas on line for as long as possible.

Deepwater Wind has taken its Met Tower down in preparation for the storm. The tower, which was erected next to the Coast Guard Station, is used to collect wind data.

As of Wednesday, Aug. 24, the town was beginning preparations for the storm. Harbormaster Stephen Land had already begun pulling the Harbors Department boats out of the water. The only town boat that will remain in the water is the marine patrol boat.

Land said that he had been advising boaters moored in New Harbor to move to a more secure area. The town’s moorings are not storm rated and as such would likely drag in hurricane-force winds. Land said that many boaters had already left for mainland ports.

“We’ve been pulling boats all day; the ramp is going at full gear,” Land said. “It’s better safe than sorry, even if it’s just a Category 1, which I think it probably will be.”

A Category 1 storm produces winds of 74 mph to 96 mph and is characterized as having “very dangerous winds that will produce some damage,” according to the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale. Hurricane Bob struck Block Island as a Category 2 storm on August 19, 1991, almost 20 years to the date before Irene’s projected arrival on the island. That storm dealt over $1.5 billion in damage to the New England region.

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