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Tornado watches for NYC, much of tri-state as Isaias nears; flash floods likely

People walk through floodwaters on Ocean Blvd. August 3, 2020 in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

Sean Rayford | Getty Images

The entire tri-state area, including all five boroughs of New York City, is bracing for torrential rain, flash floods and wire-ripping wind gusts from Tropical Storm Isaias, which killed at least two people in the Caribbean before turning toward the U.S.

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. The greatest risk of tornadoes is midday from southeast Virginia to New Jersey, forecasters say. The threat lingers Tuesday afternoon and evening from southeast New York across New England. 

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.

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Torrential rains and isolated wind gusts near 70 mph continue to be Isaias’ primary threats for the tri-state area. 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 watches and wind advisories are in effect for most of the region through early Wednesday. Widespread power outages are also likely.

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

Sean Rayford | Getty Images

Mayor Bill de Blasio said Monday that New York City wasn’t taking any chances with the storm. He said Lower Manhattan is particularly vulnerable to flooding and the city’s Office of Emergency Management deployed protection accordingly, from using barriers to shield business to protection features designed 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 Monday. “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.

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.

As of the National Hurricane Center’s 8 a.m. update, the center of Isaias was moving across southeastern Virginia with maximum sustained winds around 70 mph. It is expected to continue pushing northeast, moving near or along the coast of the mid-Atlantic states during the day and across the northeastern United States into southern Canada Tuesday night.

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