A powerful wind-swept storm system with nor'easter-like conditions is battering parts of the tri-state area Friday with pummeling rains, extensive coastal flooding and beach erosion as the National Hurricane Center indicated Hurricane Joaquin, the catastrophic Category 4 storm lashing the Bahamas, would spare the East Coast and head out to sea.
Check Storm Team 4's latest video forecast here.
The Jersey shore is seing the strongest impacts from the coastal storm system, which could dump more than 2 inches of rain and bring wind gusts of up to 60 mph. Gov. Chris Christie declared a state of emergency Thursday as he vowed preparedness and urged residents, particularly those in areas hardest-hit by Sandy three years ago, not to panic.
On Friday, Christie said the storm threat had diminished a bit from previous forecasts, but the state's four southern counties were still likely to see moderate to major coastal flooding. The governor said 1 to 3 feet of flooding was expected in the Cape May and Atlantic county regions.
The beaches were expected to take a particularly big hit. Christie said waves of 6 to 10 feet and as high as 16 feet were forecast to slam the shore. In Belmar, bulldozers were used to push up bunkers of sand to protect against tidal flooding, and Lake Como was drained to protect against high waters.
The National Weather Service issued coastal flood warnings Friday with widespread tidal flooding expected during high tides throughout this weekend. Forecasters warned of power outages from trees and limbs being knocked down and blowing sand that may cover some roads.
Flooding was occurring Friday in low-lying areas of southern New Jersey including Atlantic City, Ocean City, the Strathmere section of Upper Township, and Sea Isle City, where tow truck drivers were being called on to retrieve cars stranded in flood waters.
Work crews trucked sand in to the Ortley Beach section of Toms River, which was devastated by Sandy, and used heavy equipment to spread it onto the already-eroded beach. Belmar pumped water out of a low-lying coastal lake near the beach, and Brick was pushing sand back onto a protective steel sea wall built last fall in another area that was wrecked by Sandy.
The same storm system is being blamed for at least two deaths in South Carolina and flooding from the deep South to New England.
Across the tri-state area, overnight showers turned steadier Friday as the storm system slid up the coast. Light to moderate rain fell for much of the day, and heavier rain was expected to move in during the evening and overnight hours. Rain will taper off to scattered showers by Saturday with some lingering, wind-driven showers Sunday morning amid coastal flooding. Temperatures will only top off in the upper 50s into Saturday and the lower 60s Sunday.
Hurricane Joaquin, meanwhile, is moving slowly northwestward with maximum sustained winds near 130 mph as it batters the central Bahamas. The U.S. National Hurricane Center says some fluctuations in strength are possible during the day with slow weakening expected to begin Saturday.
Though New Jersey, New York and Connecticut remained in the so-called "cone of uncertainty" for much of the week, Storm Team 4 says there is a 90 percent chance it heads out to sea after its destructive course through the island nation.
Hurricane Joaquin unleashed heavy flooding as it roared through sparsely populated islands in the eastern Bahamas on Thursday, battering trees and buildings while surging waters reached the windows of some homes on Long Island and inundated the airport runway at Ragged Island. There were no immediate reports of casualties, according to Capt. Stephen Russell, the director of the Bahamas National Emergency Management Agency.
In a briefing Thursday, Mayor de Blasio said the city's agencies are mobilized and its emergency preparedness apparatus are ready in case Joaquin's track changes and severely affects New York. He said the city learned "powerful lessons" from Sandy and is "much safer and much more prepared" for a potential hurricane.
Gov. Cuomo also chimed in, urging even upstate New Yorkers to prepare for the worst and reminding of the inland damage wrought by Irene and Tropical Storm Lee in 2011.
"You simply prepare the best you can and we have taken all appropriate measures," Cuomo said in a phone conference call Thursday. "We are ready to use the plan that was implemented during Hurricane Irene."