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‘Enhanced’ Tornado Risk for NYC, NJ as Isaias thrashes tri-state; Nearly 650,000 lose power

A satellite image shows Tropical Storm Isaias as it progresses over the northeast United States August 4, 2020.

NOAA | via Reuters

Tropical Storm Isaias descended on the tri-state area with a vengeance Tuesday, thrashing the region with tree-toppling winds, torrential rain and threats of tornadoes as it continued its deadly march up the eastern U.S. seaboard.

Nearly three-quarters of a million people were without power across the tri-state area by early afternoon, most of them in central and southern New Jersey. There were no confirmed reports of tri-state injuries by early Tuesday afternoon.

“A few tornadoes” are possible across northern New Jersey and southeastern New York later in the day, the National Hurricane Center said. Tornado watches have been issued for all of New York City, as well as Long Island, Westchester, Rockland, Orange and Putnam counties until 4 p.m. Tuesday. The watch also applies to a number of New Jersey counties and Connecticut’s Fairfield County. Dutchess and Ulster counties in New York are under a tornado watch until 9 p.m.

About an hour after issuing the initial watch, the National Weather Service said the local tornado risk had increased. The Storm Prediction Center now predicts a 10 percent chance of tornadoes for parts of the tri-state area. Several were reported in Maryland and Delaware as Isaias roared toward New York City.

A tropical storm warning is in effect for the whole tri-state area. Isaias was downgraded from a hurricane after it made landfall late Monday in North Carolina, where hundreds of thousands of power outages were reported. But Isaias still whipped 51 mph winds as it charged through the mid-Atlantic states early Tuesday on its way to the Northeast. Only slow weakening is expected Tuesday.

A woman walks with an umbrella past sandbags and hydro-dams during Tropical Storm Isaias in the lower Manhattan area of New York City, U.S., August 4, 2020.

Shannon Stapelton | Reuters

Torrential rains and isolated wind gusts of 60 mph continue to be Isaias’ primary threats for the tri-state area. A gust of 57 mph was recorded in New Jersey’s Cape May County as Isaias neared the city. Showers dampened the region overnight and lingered through the morning, but the tri-state is expected to see impacts intensify before noon. The winds should pick up first, up ahead of the heavy rains. The storm is expected to besiege the city all day long, threatening from 10 a.m. through 10 p.m., with the heaviest rain and winds likely from noon to 2 p.m.

Flash flooding is a key concern, given a widespread 2 to 4 inches of rain — with isolated amounts up to 6 inches — are expected for the tri-state area. Flash flood warnings are in effect for New Jersey’s Hunterdon, Middlesex, Mercer, Monmouth, Ocean and Somerset counties until 3 p.m. Tuesday, while flash flood watches and wind advisories are in effect for most of the region through early Wednesday. Widespread power outages are also likely. Nearly 11,000 had been reported across the tri-state area by 11 a.m., mainly in southern New Jersey.

Damage reports were coming in from all over the tri-state by then, ranging from felled trees on homes to downed wires, flooded streets and other wind problems. Widespread suspensions were reported on multiple New York City subway lines, on the LIRR and on NJ Transit as Isaias tore off tree limbs across the region. 

While direct impacts to New York City may be limited, Mayor Bill de Blasio says he’s not taking any chances with the storm. He says Lower Manhattan is particularly vulnerable to flooding and the city’s Office of Emergency Management deployed protection accordingly. That includes barriers to shield businesses and measures to keep subways from flooding, as what happened during Sandy in 2012.

“We take precautions because we have learned the hard way,” de Blasio said. “We need everyone — look out for your neighbors, particularly seniors. See if they need anything.”

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy declared a state of emergency for his state ahead of the storm; it took effect at 5 a.m. Tuesday. The declaration means that all state offices will be closed, and non-essential employees shouldn’t report for work, Murphy said. No drivers should be on the road unless completely necessary, although no travel ban will be put into place, Murphy announced on Twitter.

A person watches waves crashing against the Pier at Garden City August 3, 2020 in Garden City, South Carolina.

Sean Rayford | Getty Images

In some localities where roads frequently have trouble with flooding, like Hoboken, a ban on driving was put in place for at least part of Tuesday. Hoboken streets will be closed to drivers from 5 p.m. Tuesday through 5 a.m. Wednesday. NJ Transit also says it has crews on standby to address any downed wires or other service-affecting issues that arise during or after the storm.

As of the National Hurricane Center’s 11 a.m. update, the center of Isaias was moving rapidly across eastern Maryland with maximum sustained winds around 70 mph. It is expected to continue pushing northeast, traveling near or along the coast of the mid-Atlantic states during the day and across the northeastern United States into southern Canada by Tuesday night.

Only gradual weakening is expected while Isaias charges north. A faster rate of weakening is expected Tuesday night, and the system is forecast to become post-tropical late Tuesday or early Wednesday.

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Tropical storm-force winds extend outward up to 140 miles. The city is expecting 35 mph to 50 mph sustained winds for hours over the course of the day, with isolated gusts up to 60 mph. Storm surge could also be an issue in the South Street Seaport area, which was prepped with barriers to protect the area.

The National Weather Service predicts a dangerous rip current threat with possible ocean swells of up to 10 feet Tuesday for all Atlantic Ocean shores. All New York City beaches will be closed to swimming Tuesday; lifeguards will not be on duty, though surfing will be allowed in designated areas.

Coastal flood warnings and advisories have been issued for parts of New York City, northeastern New Jersey and Long Island, as forecasters warn of moderate to localized major flooding possible during high tide.

New York City issued a travel advisory for almost all of Tuesday, as the rain and winds will likely reduce visibility and create hazardous conditions on the roads. Tri-state area airports were reporting weather-related delays by Tuesday morning.

People with umbrellas cross a street as the city starts to feel the effects of Tropical Storm Isaias in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., August 4, 2020.

Carlo Allegri | Reuters

Metro-North announced it will be operating on a weekend schedule on the Harlem, Hudson and New Haven lines, urging potential travelers to ride before 3 p.m., as cancellations are possible after then. The MTA also issued some advisories, including banning empty tractor-trailers and tandem trailers from bridges around the city, and announcing that outdoor trains would be suspended if winds exceed 39 mph — which they are expected to do. Due to the storm, NY Waterway ferries will shut down at noon on Tuesday.

At the state level, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has directed agencies to prepare and have ready emergency response assets that could become necessary.

“We encourage New Yorkers to make a family emergency plan, pack a Go Bag, including hand sanitizer and extra face coverings, charge cell phones, and have an emergency supply kit to be ready for any kind of emergency,” advised NYC Emergency Management Commissioner Deanne Criswell.

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