A rare hurricane landfall on Long Island or southern New England is looking much more likely.
Henri is forecast to be a hurricane as it approaches southern New England on Sunday. This could be the first serious threat of a hurricane strike on New England in more than 30 years. The last hurricane to make landfall on parts of New England was Hurricane Bob in 1991. The last hurricane to directly hit Long Island was Hurricane Gloria in 1985.
Friday night Henri, which was moving north at 9 mph, was expected to reach Long Island or southern New England late Saturday or early Sunday, according to the National Hurricane Center.
“Henri is expected to become a hurricane tonight or Saturday and be at or near hurricane strength when it makes landfall in Long Island or southern New England,” the center said.
A storm surge was expected from Flushing, New York, to Chatham, Massachusetts. It’s the first Storm Surge Watches statement ever for New England since the product was created in 2017.
Hurricane conditions, 3 to 6 inches of rain and high surf were expected along the Long Island and southern New England coastlines, federal forecasters said.
A hurricane warning was in effect for Long Island and New Haven, Connecticut, to west of Watch Hill, Rhode Island, they said. A hurricane watch extended from Watch Hill to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts
There was a concerning trend in the forecast, which has Henri slowing down significantly, and perhaps stall, right after landfall.
The bad news, the slowdown could increase the rainfall amounts that could fall over already saturated ground thanks to heavy rain from Tropical Depression Fred earlier this week. It could also create a longer duration fetch of water onshore exacerbating storm surge, coastal flooding and coastal erosion issues.
The good news is if Henri slows down enough while still over open water, the cooler water temperatures near the coast could weaken Henri from a hurricane to a tropical storm just before landfall.
However, regardless if Henri makes landfall as a low-end hurricane or strong tropical storm, the potential impacts won’t change much.
The storm surge will also cause significant damage in isolated areas. The full moon Sunday adds 1-2 feet to the water height and high tide is Sunday evening 7-9 pm which could be just after landfall. These will combine for water heights high enough to damage property in back bays or rivers to the right of landfall. Henri will quickly weaken Monday morning and only minimal additional damage will occur.
The rainfall forecast is 2 to 4 inches with isolated totals up to 6 inches. This is not expected to be a big flood event as Henri is a smaller storm, but there will be a narrow band of heavy rain on the backside of the storm that will produce flash flooding, especially with soils already saturated from recent heavy rain.
The biggest concern of all could be the prolonged high winds impacting the fully leafed-out trees across New England. Connecticut, for example, is one of the most densely forested states. Between saturated soils and the top-heavy trees, high winds could easily knock down trees leading to widespread power outages.
All interests in the path of Henri need to prepare for flooding rainfall, strong winds and the potential for prolonged power outages.