Martha’s Vineyard gears up for Hurricane Irene

Hurricane Irene tracks toward the Carolinas, then New England.
Photo courtesy of National Hurricane Center

Hurricane Irene tracks toward the Carolinas, then New England.

Although National Weather Service forecasters caution against focusing too confidently on the predicted track of a storm five days away, Islanders have begun to take precautions in advance of Hurricane Irene.

Forecasters predict the powerful storm will track along the East Coast and arrive in New England about 8 pm Sunday evening.

Wednesday afternoon, as the storm approached the Bahamas, the National Hurricane Center upgraded the storm to a Category 3 hurricane. Aircraft flying into the weather system measured winds of nearly 120 miles per hour, with higher gusts.

“Interests in Eastern North Carolina and the mid-Atlantic states should monitor the progress of Irene,” the National Hurricane Center said in its 1 pm Wednesday advisory.

National Weather Service forecasters said they have a high degree of confidence in the track that predicts the storm will glance off the coast off North Carolina at 8 am Saturday morning.

They caution they are far less confident in the predicted storm track beyond that, but they expect Irene will accelerate quickly along the Eastern seaboard and make landfall in Rhode Island Sunday evening. Forecasters say the average error in hurricane track predictions five days in advance can be as much as 250 miles, so it is possible that the storm could track away from Martha’s Vineyard, or track much closer to it.

Storm preps

The Steamship Authority expects the storm will affect its operations.

“The Steamship Authority has added additional trips on Thursday August 25, 2011, between Woods Hole and Martha’s Vineyard. Based on the most recent forecasts, the Steamship Authority anticipates trip cancellations this upcoming weekend.”

Emergency management directors for the six Island towns are already well into their pre-determined preparations for emergency response.

In Oak Bluffs, emergency management director Peter Martell met with selectmen and other town officials to outline plans, and get a briefing from the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency.

The town took heated criticism last year from Island residents, business owners, and officials in other towns in response to a decision to close roads and businesses well in advance of hurricane Earl. The advisory was broadcast Island-wide through the Code Red automated phone messaging system.

“I have no plans currently to close roads and businesses, but we have the potential for a very serious storm,” Oak Bluffs selectman Kathy Burton said. As chairman, state and local law vests emergency decisions for Oak Bluffs with her, in consultation with the emergency management director, and other public safety officials.

Ms. Burton said the town intends to use the Cod Red system for both emergency and non-emergency information. She said those announcements could begin as early as Thursday, August 25. Information about Code Red announcements, as well as the automated process for signing up, may be found on most town web sites, as well as the Dukes County web site.

Prudent mariners

Tisbury town officials issued a statement Wednesday afternoon appealing to boaters who planned to end their boating season soon.

“If Hurricane Irene is to follow a path which would bring the storm close to Martha’s Vineyard, there will be a significant rush to remove a significant number of boats,” the office of selectmen said in a statement. “Consequently, the town is requesting that any boats in this situation be hauled out immediately.”

Harbormaster Jay Wilbur said if the forecast holds, the Island will experience very severe weather.

“As we look at the projected path of the storm today, it appears that the storm will be at least of tropical storm force wind and rain,” Mr. Wilbur said. “Consequently, boaters should prepare accordingly.”

He advised boaters that if haulout is not an option, boat owners should check bilge pumps, put on extra mooring lines and chafing gear, and remove sails.

“Visiting yachts should make plans to return to their home ports, effective immediately,” Mr. Wilbur said.

Plan and prepare

Federal officials advised everyone in the possible path of hurricane Irene to take common sense precautions, and urged people to get information on how to plan and prepare online at ready.gov.

The latest information on the forecast and storm track is issued on the National Hurricane Center web site at nhc.noaa.gov/index.shtml.

The Martha’s Vineyard Times will present continuous updates on preparations for Hurricane Irene at mvtimes.com.