As Hurricane Lee moved north through the Atlantic early Friday, tropical storm warnings were in effect for parts of Atlantic Canada and a wide stretch of coastal New England that included about seven million people in Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire.
The warnings from the National Weather Service indicate that winds of 39 miles per hour or higher are expected within about 36 hours or less, along with potential flooding or storm surges. A tropical storm warning was in place from Westport, on the South Shore of Massachusetts, and the islands of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard through parts of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia in Canada.
Hurricane watches, meaning winds of 74 m.p.h. or higher could occur within 48 hours, have also been issued for parts of Canada and Maine. Gov. Janet T. Mills of Maine declared a state of emergency on Thursday, and the White House ordered federal assistance to the state.
Lee has been spinning across the Atlantic for more than a week and was still hundreds of miles away from New England early Friday as it produced tropical storm conditions in Bermuda. But conditions were forecast to deteriorate in the northeastern United States and Canada later in the day.
It has been nearly two weeks since speculation about the storm’s impact on the East Coast began. On Thursday, the eventual outcome was becoming more apparent, though a small shift east or west would make a significant difference in expected wind speeds, forecasters in Boston said.
As of 11 p.m. on Thursday, Lee was about 170 miles west-northwest of Bermuda and about 590 miles south-southeast of Nantucket in Massachusetts. The storm had maximum sustained winds of 85 m.p.h., making it a Category 1 storm, and was moving north at 10 m.p.h. The Hurricane Center said it would remain “a large and dangerous cyclone” even as it weakened during its approach to New England and Atlantic Canada.
Hurricane forecasters said on Thursday that the storm was expected to move north after passing Bermuda. By Friday night and into Saturday, Lee was expected to turn slightly left, bringing the large hurricane close to southeastern New England. A hurricane watch, meaning hurricane conditions are possible within the area, stretched through down-east Maine from Stonington to the U.S.-Canada border on Thursday night.
The Canadian Hurricane Center also issued a hurricane watch on Wednesday for part of the provinces of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. The center said that its hurricane and tropical storm watches referred to conditions expected on Saturday.
The storm was expected to turn back to the northeast as it moves toward or across the Gulf of Maine, turning itself back toward Atlantic Canada. Landfall will probably occur late Saturday afternoon or overnight somewhere along the Maine or Nova Scotia shorelines.
Bob Robichaud, a warning preparedness meteorologist with the Environment and Climate Change Canada, said at a news conference on Thursday that Lee’s anticipated turn northward would bring Lee “into our response zone on Friday, again, most likely as a hurricane.”
He said that heavy rainfall was expected on Sunday to the west of Nova Scotia and to the southwest of southwestern New Brunswick or the gulf of Maine. He said there would be a rise in water levels along the coast with the highest waves occurring along the Atlantic coast of Nova Scotia, potentially into the Bay of Fundy area of New Brunswick.
Forecasters warned that the growing size of the storm means hazards will extend well away from the center.
The ultimate outcome for locations in New England will depend on how a few different conditions play out over the next few days. The amount of rainfall will vary significantly depending on precisely where the storm comes ashore, and the forecast rainfall amounts are likely to shift until the very last minute.
Officials in Boston were hopeful after Lee turned “slightly east” on Thursday morning.
“At this time, we are expecting the worst of it to miss Boston, which is good news,” said Mayor Michelle Wu of Boston at a news conference on Thursday. “Fingers crossed that will remain the projection.”
But she said conditions were expected to be similar to that of a nor’easter because the wind and the rain will extend far beyond the center over the coast.
The city expects to receive four inches of rain with wind speeds up to 30 miles per hour as the storm arrives late on Friday evening and lasts through Saturday evening, Mayor Wu said.
The city of Quincy, Mass., just south of Boston, said it was installing floodgates on Thursday to close gaps in its sea wall.
Southampton, a town on the eastern tip of Long Island in New York that is threatened by high tides and coastal flooding, declared a state of emergency, beginning on Thursday and stretching through the weekend.
Anne Strauser, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said that the worst-case scenario for Maine would be if the storm shifts farther west and creates more onshore flow, which could make coastal flooding worse. She said that any storm surge that occurred there would vary depending on the tide cycle. Unlike when a hurricane makes landfall in the southern United States, and the tides vary by a few feet, the tide swings in Maine can be from eight to 18 feet. So a storm surge at low tide might not have much of an effect.
‘It’s just going to get wider.’
As the storm heads north over the next three days, it will weaken as it moves over cooler water. And as it approaches land, it’s likely to transition from a tropical system — one that gets its energy from the ocean — into one similar to Hurricane Sandy’s, which drew energy from competing cold and warm air masses.
While weakening is good, it will not diminish the potential impact of wind, rain and coastal flooding.
In Canada, officials are concerned that because of Lee’s broadness, it is likely to affect most of the Maritime Provinces and parts of eastern Quebec.
Hurricane-force winds extended up to 105 miles from the center of the storm on Thursday afternoon, and tropical-storm-force winds extended to more than triple that distance.
On Wednesday, forecasters suggested that their five-day probabilities for tropical-storm-force winds at certain locations, which are displayed below, were likely underestimating their likelihood.
Western Nova Scotia faces some of the highest possible impacts from Lee, Environment Canada said.
Johnny Diaz, Melina Delkic, Mike Ives, Orlando Mayorquin, Anastasia Marks, Eduardo Medina, Chris Stanford, John Yoon and Derrick Bryson Taylor contributed reporting.