South Coast emergency planners are preparing for possible high winds, rain, storm surge, and heavy surf from Hurricane Lee, which veered northwestward as it began moving up the East Coast toward rain-soaked southern New England.
Severe weather and tropical storm-force winds from Lee are possible starting Friday through Saturday night, forecasters said.
The National Hurricane Center issued a tropical storm watch for coastal New England from Rhode Island to Maine on Wednesday afternoon. This includes the entirety of the South Coast, as well as Block Island, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.
A tropical storm watch means tropical storm conditions are possible within the area, generally within 48 hours.
The National Hurricane Center also issued a storm surge watch for Cape Cod Bay and Nantucket, predicting 1 to 4 feet of storm surge could occur along the Massachusetts coastline during the storm, along with 1 to 4 inches of rainfall.
“The question at this point is, how quickly is it going to move,” said Bill Leatham, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Boston office who is tracking Hurricane Lee. “Also, if it does jog a bit further west, how much further west is that?”
Leatham said the highest risk is going to be across the coastline, for the strongest wind speeds and gusts. “They could cause tree damage and power line damage, given the speeds that we’re expecting.”
Leatham added that regardless of the exact path of the hurricane, Lee’s winds will push large amounts of energy onto the Massachusetts coastline. Beaches along Buzzards Bay could see waves approaching 8 to 10 feet high on Saturday, and 10- to 16-foot waves on eastern Cape Cod, he said.
South Coast businesses and state agencies were preparing responses to the expected conditions.
Chris McKinnon, senior media relations specialist with Eversource, said the utility is already staging repair crews in regional hubs around the South Coast ahead of the storm, to ensure quick response times on Friday.
He noted that wet leaves on storm-soaked trees, combined with high winds, make it easy for branches to snap and knock down power lines. Those conditions may put coastal communities like Mattapoisett and New Bedford at risk of power outages.
“Sometimes, the wind isn’t as bad as we anticipated,” he said. “But no matter what, we need to plan so that we can make the necessary response.”
The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency hosted a call on Wednesday with officials from coastal communities to discuss potential impacts from the storm, according to public information officer Sara Porter. She added that MEMA has also begun pre-impact planning with its partners who run search-and-rescue, debris management, communications, and damage assessment teams.
Vineyard Wind halted construction on its offshore wind site as of Monday, and the company is bringing boats back into the Port of New Bedford with parts onboard, ahead of the storm.
“Worker health and safety is of paramount importance and guides all of our operations,” said Vineyard Wind director of communications Andrew Doba.
“Vessels will head into port at various points in the coming days and will return to the lease area once the weather allows,” he said. “We’re also working with other developers and local ports to ensure that all vessels can find safe harbor.”
National Hurricane Center forecasters say Hurricane Lee slowed as it moved through the Atlantic Tuesday night, dropping from a Category 3 storm to a Category 2 storm. It was churning 380 miles southwest of Bermuda as of Wednesday evening.
Computer models show that the hurricane’s west side will pass east of Cape Cod by 8 a.m. Saturday, before Lee makes landfall as a Category 1 hurricane or tropical storm in Maine or Nova Scotia on Sunday morning.
National Hurricane Center scientists predict the storm may pick up speed Thursday, as the eye passes Bermuda on the west. Lee will then weaken and widen as it approaches coastal New England and Canada on Friday and Saturday.
Despite slowing wind speeds, more westward movement of the storm is bringing increased chances of threatening conditions and damage to New England this weekend.
“Due to Lee’s large size, hazards will extend well away from the center, and there will be little to no significance on exactly where the center reaches the coast,” forecasters said.
On Wednesday, Hurricane-force winds from Lee extended 115 miles outward from the storm’s center, and tropical-storm-force winds extended up to 240 miles from the storm’s eye, the center reported.
Any effects from the hurricane follow a major regional rainfall event on Monday, with more rain that fell on Wednesday night.
The National Weather Service also instituted a high rip current warning and small craft warning for the South Coast, with high surf likely from Thursday into the weekend.
Email reporter Adam Goldstein at firstname.lastname@example.org.