Hurricane Earl weakened to a Category 2 storm as it passed the U.S. eastern seaboard, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.
The hurricane was 160 miles (260 kilometers) south-southeast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina with sustained winds of 110 mph, down from 115 mph earlier, the center said in an advisory at 8 p.m. Miami time. Earl was moving north at 18 mph.
Winds of as much as 100 mph are expected to strike Nantucket starting tomorrow night, said Neal Strauss, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Taunton, Massachusetts. The island, which lies 90 miles south of Boston, will be the closest Earl gets to the U.S., with the brunt coming at about 2 a.m. on Sept. 4, he said. Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick declared a state of emergency.
“We are leaving tonight at 9 p.m.,” Sheila Drepeau, of Armonk, New York, who has been coming to Nantucket for 50 years, said earlier today. “I think this is a storm of such ferocity, it is not the type of storm we have seen in the past.”
Airlines and the national passenger railroad, Amtrak, began canceling some scheduled trips as the storm approached the Eastern Seaboard.
Before its winds dropped from 140 mph today, Earl was the third-strongest hurricane on record to travel so far north along the East Coast, Jeff Masters, co-founder of Weather Underground Inc., wrote on his blog.
The storm triggered mandatory evacuations and hurricane and storm warnings from North Carolina to Canada, and President Barack Obama declared a state of emergency for North Carolina.
At its peak, Earl’s winds were 145 mph, making it a Category 4 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale and the strongest of the 2010 Atlantic season. It’s now a Category 2 storm, the second weakest on the scale.
“Earl should continue to weaken gradually,” according to an earlier hurricane center forecast analysis. “Although the maximum winds in the core have decreased, Earl continues to be a large and powerful hurricane.”
Winds of 50 mph to 60 mph, with gusts to 75, are forecast to hit North Carolina tonight as Earl passes near the Outer Banks before scraping Cape Cod and landing in Nova Scotia. Meteorologists warned that New York City may be hit by winds of at least 39 mph.
“Our main concern is wave action,” said Robert Frederick, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Newport, North Carolina. “It is a powerful storm and a strong storm. It is going to have large waves and significant beach erosion.”
Frederick said the forecast calls for Earl to pass about 70 miles off Cape Hatteras early tomorrow.
The effects of Earl will drop off significantly away from coastal areas, Frederick said. Some areas inland may only experience wind gusts and some rain.
In Boston, gusts may reach 39 mph, Strauss said. A tropical storm watch is being maintained in case the storm’s track shifts to the west.
“It wouldn’t take much of a deviation for the core of the hurricane to be very close to Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket and maybe even Cape Cod,” Todd Kimberlain, a hurricane specialist at the National Hurricane Center, said today in a telephone interview.
Tom and Veronica Weber, of New York’s Long Island, left Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, today, cutting short a week’s vacation to comply with a mandatory evacuation order on the Outer Banks. Traveling with two children and another relative, the couple planned to drive nine hours in hopes of beating Earl to New York.
“I don’t want to get hit by the hurricane twice,” said Tom Weber, 40, as he packed. “I would rather ride it out at home.”
Obama’s emergency declaration extends to 18 counties and allows the Federal Emergency Management Agency to mobilize rescue and cleanup equipment and provide federal aid, according to a statement e-mailed today by FEMA.
About 26 million people from North Carolina to Maine may face either hurricane or tropical storm conditions ahead of the U.S. Labor Day holiday weekend, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Continental Airlines Inc. canceled about 50 regional flights scheduled for tonight and tomorrow operated by Continental Express and Continental Connection in the Northeast in advance of Earl, said Andrew Ferraro, a spokesman.
Delta Air Lines Inc. canceled two Atlanta-bound flights for today and tomorrow from North Carolina and Virginia, said Anthony Black, a spokesman. Amtrak suspended service to Newport News, Virginia, according to a company statement.
Earl may come ashore near Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, about 185 miles west of Halifax, on the morning of Sept. 4, the tracking map of the Canadian Hurricane Centre showed. Yarmouth, with about 7,200 residents, is at the center of Canada’s lobster fishing grounds.
Canada issued a hurricane watch for Nova Scotia from Medway Harbour to Digby.
Earl is being followed in the Atlantic by Tropical Storm Fiona, with 50 mph winds, which is expected to pass close to Bermuda in the next two days.
Fiona was 425 miles south-southwest of the island nation, moving north-northwest at 17 mph, the Hurricane Center said at 8 p.m. Miami time.
Behind Fiona is former tropical depression Gaston, which collapsed today into a remnant low pressure system. The hurricane center stopped issuing advisories on Gaston, which may reconstitute into a storm later, according to a forecast analysis.