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Henri Downgraded To Tropical Storm Projected To Hit Block Island; Flooding & Outages Still Expected

This OES-16 East GeoColor satellite image taken Friday, Aug. 20, 2021, at 11:40 a.m. EDT., and provided by NOAA, shows Tropical Storm Henri in the Atlantic Ocean.
This OES-16 East GeoColor satellite image taken Friday, Aug. 20, 2021, at 11:40 a.m. EDT., and provided by NOAA, shows Tropical Storm Henri in the Atlantic Ocean.

The National Weather Service has downgraded Henri to a tropical storm. The current outlook from forecasters has Henri making landfall on Block Island  on Sunday morning. However, Tropical Storm  Warnings are in effect for Long Island and the Connecticut shoreline, with 75 mph winds and several inches of rain still forecast.

Need To Know

  • A Tropical Storm warning is posted for coastal Connecticut and Long Island. Storm surge warning are in effect for Long Island Sound and the South Shore of Long Island. 
  • A voluntariy evacuation order is in place for vulnerable low-lying communities, including Fire Island off Long Island's South Shore and several blocks in New Haven, Connecticut. Ferries will be suspended indefintely Saturday night.
  • Service on some eastern branches of the Long Island Rail Road will be suspended at midnight.
  • Metro-North Railroad will suspend service on the New Haven line starting at 4 a.m. Sunday. The last train to run from New Haven before service is suspended will be the 11:35 p.m. train from Union Station, and the last train to run from Grand Central to New Haven will be at 1:53 a.m. Sunday.
  • In Connecticut, all public transit systems statewide, including trains, buses, and ferries, are planning to suspend operations by the very early hours of Sunday morning. These suspensions will likely last through at least Monday morning.
  • Governor Lamont has also banned empty tractor trailers, tandem trailers, and motorcycles from Interstate 95 starting at 11:00 am Sunday. This will be in effect until further notice.
  • On Long Island, report outages using 800-490-0075. During this storm, if necessary, PSEG Long Island may use an “enhancement” to their outage communications process. With this enhancement, customers contacting the call center early in the storm will receive a message that personnel are assessing conditions, rather than an estimated time of restoration. This change will allow crews to assess storm impact before issuing restoration times, and increase the accuracy of their communication with customers.
  • The CT PREPARES or AMERICAN RED CROSS EMERGENCY apps are available for Apple and Android devices. In Connecticut, report outages online, or by calling 800-286-2000.

State Of Emergency

Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont has declared a state of emergency in preparation for Henri. The order calls on 200 Connecticut National Guards to help communities respond to storm surge when Henri makes landfall in Stonington and along the Rhode Island border.

Active duty guardsmen would use high-wheeled vehicles to conduct search and rescue missions and clear routes of debris. They would also help generate temporary power and distribute goods, like food and safe drinking water, to impacted communities.

Lamont also asked a presidential pre-landfall emergency declaration to provide the state with federal assistance in anticipation of the storm. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is ready to rollout help to recover from the storm.

“[In New York] I want to assure everyone that the current administration is very adept at dealing with storms,” Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hocul said during an unrelated visit to Long Island on Friday. “All the decision making will continue to come out of the current administration until Tuesday."

Hochul will become the first female governor of New York when Governor Andrew Cuomo steps down midnight on Tuesday.

“We're concerned about storm surge. But certainly, that has been managed very well right now,” she said. “I hope that everyone remains safe and that the damage is minimal."

Preparations For Outages

With heavy rains and high winds with peak gusts up to 35 miles per hour and up to 75 miles per hour on eastern Long Island beginning Sunday morning, PSEG Long Island expects some outages may last up to seven to 10 days.

“Potential seven to 10 day power outages are unacceptable. While we are all hoping for the best outcome this weekend, PSEG Long Island must call in additional crews who are prepared to respond to our resident’s outages,” said Nassau County Executive Laura Curran. She joined other elected officials and residents in closely scrutinizing the utility company’s response, after its poor performance following Tropical Storm Isaias last summer.

Customers across the Northeast lost power following that storm with some not getting it back for more than a week. PSEG Long Island was also blamed for its failed communication system during Isaias.

“As the storm makes its way up the coast, employees are preparing for the possibility of high winds that can cause flying debris, and bring down trees and power lines,” said Michael Sullivan, senior director of Transmission & Distribution at PSEG Long Island. “We encourage our customers to do the same at their homes and businesses.”

Eversource is gearing up their emergency response preparedness efforts, but acknowledges that up to 69% of Eversource’s 1.25 million customers will lose power and that restoration could take as long as three full weeks — depending on the severity of the storm.

“There’s still some uncertainty across multiple models that we follow, and we’re preparing based on the current forecast. One of the biggest challenges for storms like Henri is that changes in the storm track can significantly alter potential impacts. We will continue to adjust our response plans to shift crews and other resources accordingly as the storm approaches New England,” said Craig Hallstrom, president of regional electric operations at Eversource.

Community Responses

Forcasters say Henri could be the most damaging storm for New England in 30 years since Hurricane Bob on August 18, 1991. Hurricane Irene was downgraded to a tropical storm before it made landfall on August 21, 2011.

Superstorm Sandy, while not tropical storm strength, hit Long Island and did significant damage in October of 2012. In the Hamptons, officials warned of dangerous rip currents and flooding that’s likely to turn streets like the mansion-lined Dune Road into lagoons.

In Connecticut, New London is expected to be the worst hit by the storm. City Fire Chief Thomas Curcio said they are prepared to open the city shelter.

“Which in New London is Winthrop School. So we will be prepared to open that, should the need arise if any flooding occurs. Or any loss of power for someone with special needs, needs to be relocated,” Curcio said.

Curcio said residents should secure patio furniture and anything else that is loose that can blow away.

The City of Norwalk has opened the Maritime and Yankee Doodle garages for residents to park for free, clearing roads for emergency services.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said eastern Long Island could expect to see up to 16-foot waves if Henri gets any closer. That could cause up to five feet of storm surge.

“We know based on experience that that can cause a significant amount of damage. Particularly of course in the low lying areas around the county. We're keeping an eye particularly on the high tide cycle on Sunday morning,” Bellone said.

Flooding could worsen with a full-moon high tide.

As WSHU Public Radio’s award-winning senior political reporter, Ebong Udoma draws on his extensive tenure to delve deep into state politics during a major election year.
Bill began his radio journey on Long Island, followed by stops in Schenectady, Bridgeport, Boston and New York City. He’s glad to be back on the air in Fairfield County, where he has lived with his wife and two sons for more than 20 years.
Terry Sheridan is a Peabody-nominated, award-winning journalist. As Senior Director of News and Education, he developed a unique and award-winning internship program with the Stony Brook University School of Communications and Journalism, where he is also a lecturer and adjunct professor. He also mentors graduate fellows from the Sacred Heart University Graduate School of Communication, Media and the Arts.
A native Long Islander, J.D. is WSHU's managing editor. He also hosts the climate podcast Higher Ground. J.D. reports for public radio stations across the Northeast, is a journalism educator and proud SPJ member.