Hurricane Earl, weakening as it moves north toward New England and Canada, disrupted air and rail travel and lashed North Carolina’s Outer Banks with wind and rain.
The storm’s top winds decreased to 80 miles (137 kilometers) per hour from 105 mph earlier today, according to a National Hurricane Center advisory at 2 p.m. East Coast time.
Earl, once a powerful Category 4 system and now 7 mph away from tropical storm status, is 290 miles south-southwest of Nantucket Island, Massachusetts, as the Labor Day holiday weekend begins and is expected to pass within 50 to 100 miles of the popular tourist destination before going ashore in Canada.
The storm passed 85 miles from North Carolina’s barrier islands as a Category 2 hurricane, cutting power and flooding a major Outer Banks road. The National Weather Service issued a flash flood watch for southern Massachusetts, Cape Cod and Nantucket, saying as much as 6 inches of rain is possible.
“We generally expect tropical storm-force winds for the Cape and the island, and in Boston it will feel like a nor’easter,” said Neal Strauss, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Taunton, Massachusetts.
Hurricane-force winds are at least 74 mph, and tropical- storm force winds range from 39 mph to 73 mph. A nor’easter is a type of winter storm that occurs in New England and is known for its high winds and heavy precipitation.
Southwest Airlines Co. and Continental Airlines Inc. dropped more than 120 flights in the eastern U.S. today along with nine US Airways Express commuter flights.
AMR Corp.’s American Airlines, Delta Air Lines Inc., UAL Corp.’s United Airlines and JetBlue Airways Corp. are operating full schedules today, spokesmen said. Nine flights by US Airways Group Inc. commuter partners were canceled, said Todd Lehmacher, a spokesman for the carrier.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration’s website shows all of the major airports on the East Coast are operating normally with only La Guardia Airport reporting delays of 30 minutes on some arriving flights due to wind.
Amtrak suspended service to Newport News, Virginia, according to a company statement. The railroad also canceled some of its trains to and from Boston and said some would originate or end in New York instead.
Two Canadian refineries are in the path of the storm, including the nation’s largest, the Irving Oil plant in Saint John, New Brunswick, which produces more than 300,000 barrels a day, according to the company’s Web site. About 175,000 barrels are exported daily to the U.S. Northeast.
A refinery in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, across the harbor from Halifax, is the smallest of Imperial Oil’s refineries and processes about 82,000 barrels of oil per day.
Rain today whipped across NC-12, the Outer Banks’s only thoroughfare, and flooded stretches of the road. The wind ripped the siding off buildings and rattled light posts in Kitty Hawk. NC-12 was closed at Oregon Inlet Bridge because of storm surges and flooding, the North Carolina Department of Transportation said on its website.
“The hurricane-force winds remained just offshore” while the Outer Banks were struck by tropical storm-force winds, Stacy Stewart, a specialist at the National Hurricane Center, said today in a telephone interview. “Hurricane-force winds could for a brief period affect Nantucket. If Earl deviates just 20 or 30 miles, it could actually make landfall” on the island.
“For the folks on the coast of North Carolina this morning, it’s a rough one,” Chris Hyde, a meteorologist at MDA EarthSat Weather Inc. in Rockville, Maryland, said today in an interview with Deirdre Bolton on Bloomberg Television’s “InsideTrack.” “There are certainly some power outages of the local utilities located there, swimming is a no-go, surfing is a no-go.”
Hurricane and tropical storm warnings in North Carolina have been dropped. A hurricane warning remains in place for Woods Hole, Massachusetts, and Cape Cod, including Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.
A hurricane watch is also in effect for Ecum Secum to Digby in Nova Scotia. A tropical storm warning stretches from Virginia to Sandy Hook, New Jersey, as well as for parts of Long Island and the southern New England coast.
Residents on Nantucket, about 90 miles south of Boston, were urged to stay in their homes, according to the town and county website. The high school opened this morning as a shelter to anyone who needs it.
“The harbor is pretty empty,” said Teena Loftin, a 20- year resident of the island. “I have been here before when the energy is really electric before a storm, but the energy didn’t feel like that. It may be people are handling this like a really huge winter storm, which we get all the time.”
She said some businesses have boarded up windows and moved inventory, while others haven’t done much of anything at all.
Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick declared a state of emergency while the Federal Emergency Management Agency announced today that an emergency disaster declaration by President Barack Obama would make aid available for the state.
The two most recent hurricanes to damage Massachusetts were Hurricane Gloria in 1985, which killed 8 people, left 2 million without power and caused $900 million in damage; and Bob, which struck in 1991, according to the Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety and Security. Bob went ashore near New Bedford, killing 18 people and causing $2.5 billion in damage.
North Carolina’s Dare, Currituck and Hyde counties all evacuated coastal islands ahead of the storm, and schools are closed today, according to their websites.
“There is flooding and overwash along the Outer Banks,” North Carolina Governor Beverly Perdue said today. “Ocracoke and parts of Hatteras still have no electricity. In terms of something severe, we have not heard that yet. We had no reports of injuries.”
As of 11:19 a.m., 2,185 customers were without power, mostly in North Carolina, according to Dominion Resources Inc.’s website.
“We’ve been very fortunate,” said Larry Shelton, a supervisor for Dominion Resources Inc. “If Earl had come ashore, it probably would have been disastrous.”
In the Atlantic southeast of Earl, Tropical Storm Fiona with 45 mph winds is expected to pass close to Bermuda early tomorrow. Fiona was 200 miles south-southwest of the islands moving north at 13 mph, the Hurricane Center said. A tropical storm warning, indicating such conditions are expected within 36 hours, was in place for Bermuda.
The Bermuda Weather Service said on its website that Fiona is a threat to the islands and the storm’s eye is forecast to pass within 6 miles of the islands at 5 a.m. local time tomorrow.
Elsewhere, the hurricane center is tracking two systems, one of them the remains of Tropical Storm Gaston. The center gives Gaston a 40 percent chance of reforming. The second system, off the African coast, has a 20 percent chance of becoming a storm.