Earl Brings Tropical Storm Warning for Coastal N.J. & L.I.

Earl has now weakened to a Category 2 storm

By Katy Tur, Pat Battle, Roseanne Colletti and Hasani Gittens
|  Thursday, Jun 30, 2011  |  Updated 2:34 PM EDT
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A tropical storm warning has been issued for the coast of Long Island  and New Jersey and a hurricane warning has been extended through areas of Massachusetts and Connecticut as the powerful Hurricane Earl barrels toward the East Coast.

Earl continued to weaken late Thursday, with maximum sustained winds of 110 mph, making it now a Category 2 storm.  Its movement is due north. The track remains the same as Earl is expected to take a turn to the northeast and parallel the coast passing to the East of Long Island.

High winds and rain from Hurricane Earl were expected to buffet the coastline Friday, and even though the worst of the storm is expected to be centered more than 100 miles offshore, plans were being made Thursday to prevent damage to people and property.

"We're telling everybody to secure any and all objects that can become wind-blown and turn into missiles," said Allyn Seel, deputy director of the Atlantic County Office of Emergency Management. "We're also looking at possibly some loss of power, so we're telling people to buy things like extra batteries, flashlights and water."

In New York City, officials were on alert but said they expected to see only side effects of the storm — mostly rain and high winds, with possible soil erosion on the beaches and flooding along the oceanside coasts of Brooklyn and Queens.

The Long Island Rail Road announced it would halt service on two branches on eastern Long Island on Friday afternoon. Also, Suffolk County officials said ferry service between Fire Island and the mainland would halt at about 3 p.m. Friday. Several county-run campgrounds were closing Thursday night, added Dan Aug, a spokesman for the county executive.

At Captree State Park, on L.I., Jonah Stuwart and Megan Woodbury were worried about their wedding on Saturday.

"We're keeping our fingers crossed for now," said Stuwart. "All is well for now if Earl stays on schedule."

Meanwhile, the Port Authority is gearing up to handle the nearly 3 million travelers expected to pass through its airports, bridges, tunnels and rail system over Labor Day weekend.

Forecasters have warned of a "dangerous storm surge" that could raise water levels by up to five feet above ground level in some areas. "Large and destructive waves" could also cause problems. Earl was also causing swells along the East Coast, resulting in dangerous surf conditions and rip currents.

Wind gusts could go up to 50 miles an hour on Long Island, which is expected to be hit the hardest. Beach communities there and in New Jersey are preparing for a heavy onslaught on wind and rain.

"It's always beautiful before a storm," quipped Steve Wisnowski, just after he closed the Westhampton Beach.

Strong rip currents and fierce waves have forced the closure of oceanside beaches  throughout Suffolk County.

"We have three emergency shelter locations designated," said Joe Williams, the Commissioner of Fire, Rescue and Emergency Preparedness for Suffolk County.

He explained Riverhead High School could hold up to 1,000 people if the need arises, the Suffolk County Fire Academy,in Yaphank, would provide a pet-friendly haven for several hundred and the John J. Foley Nursing Home, also in Yaphank, would be open to evacuees with special needs.

There is also concern about the status of a mobile home park in Riverhead. "Some of the units are not lashed down", said Williams. The town is weighing a decision to move people out.

Most people seemed determined to stay put. "I have food I can take in the car with me if I need to leave," said Cherie Magee, relaxing outside the Beach Cafe in Westhampton Beach. However, she plans to stay and weather the storm.

The Long Island Power Authority, which provides electricity to 1.1 million customers, was bringing in 1,600 line workers from out of state to complement its own workforce of 500, said Chief Operating Officer Mike Herby. He said an additional 2,000 LIPA workers were prepared to provide customer support and aid with logistics.

In July, a Weather Channel report showed that New York City is due for a direct hit by a major hurricane. We're not trying to be alarmist, but you can find find a New York City evacuation routes here, and check out the Nassau County Hurricane preparedness page as well.

The Red Cross also has an excellent Hurricane Safety Checklist, that everyone should read and print out.

If Earl brings rain farther inland, it could also affect the U.S. Open tennis tournament, being played now through Sept. 12 in Flushing, Queens.

"We're keeping our eye on it very closely," said United States Tennis Association spokesman Chris Widmaier. "It's still a little early to tell how it will track and we're hoping it will stay off the coast."

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