Henri’s path trending further west


Updated 5 pm

The National Weather Service has issued a hurricane watch for Martha’s Vineyard and all of southeastern New England.

Tropical Storm Henri is gathering strength in the Atlantic Ocean off Bermuda and could strengthen into a category 1 hurricane before making landfall, William Babcock, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Norton, told The Times. He said once the storm makes landfall, winds should drop to 50 to 60 mph.

Based on that track, however, Martha’s Vineyard would feel the brunt of that wind. “The East side has the most wind and the west side has the most rain. We would be expecting if this track verifies, the Island would get some rain — more than Nantucket, but less than Rhode Island and eastern Connecticut The winds are expected to be climbing up to about 74 mph and could go higher. That’s something we’ll have to keep an eye on. As it gets closer, we’ll have more confidence in those values.”

By mid-afternoon, the storm was trending more West than earlier indicated moving it away from the Vineyard. Instead of Rhode Island, it’s now looking like landfall could be in Montauk, New York, though the storm was still churning in the Atlantic near Savannah, Georgia, when the latest forecast was issued by the National Weather Service. Later Friday afternoon, National Weather Service Meteorologist Andrew Loconto said while Henri remains on a more westerly track, “Martha’s Vineyard is still in the cone of uncertainty.” By this he said he meant the center of the weather system still has the potential to pass directly over the Vineyard. Loconto said. Henri will pass through the region at an estimated 10 mph as opposed to the 25 mph more common for such weather systems. Because of this, Henri has the potential to cause greater damage, he said. Henri could arrive near the Vineyard Saturday night, he said, but “more likely Sunday morning.” 

The National Weather Service issued a storm surge warning for the area “for a danger of life-threatening flooding,” at around 5 pm Friday.

According to the advisory, a warning is issued up to 36 hours before hazardous conditions begin. “Urgently complete efforts to protect life and property,” the warning reads.

“Follow evacuation orders if given for this area to avoid drowning or being cut off from emergency services.”

The question on a lot of minds: What would happen to the Ag Fair? Late Friday, the fair issued a press release saying they are monitoring the situation.

“The Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society is monitoring the approaching storm Henri arriving on Sunday. We are in communication with Emergency Management, the National Weather Service, the police and fire department,” the release states. “In addition, Cushing Amusements is also preparing contingency plans should the fair need to close due to weather. We will make further announcements regarding the possible closure of the fair on Sunday.”

On the Island, cars were lined up six deep at the Shell station to fuel up. Meanwhile, three utility trucks passed by on Beach Road.

“Yes, we are in the process of pre-staging crews and other resources on Martha’s Vineyard in order to ensure that we’re ready to respond as quickly as safely possible,” William Hinkle, a spokesman for Eversource, wrote in an email. “Additional crews will be positioned on the island by the end of the day Saturday, and after the storm arrives and restoration begins, we’ll be able to shift additional resources as necessary.”

Debbie Packer, manager of the Shell gas station on Beach Road, said the station has been “flat out” all day as folks fill their gas tanks before the impending storm. She added that many gas stations around the Island are out of gas, and the Shell station in Vineyard Haven is being supplied by the RM Packer Co. gasoline barge, so they are still able to keep the pumps open.

“People are just getting ready and everyone is really looking to support each other,” Packer said, noting that preparing for a storm can be a stressful time and maintaining composure and patience when getting gas or going grocery shopping is important to keep the Island functioning.

​​Activity at Island grocery stores was beginning to ramp up in the afternoon, as people bought cases of water, bread, and non perishables to be ready in case of a power outage. 

Island visitor Frank Govind was heading out of Reliable Market in Oak Bluffs with several gallons of water, along with bread and some canned soup when he told The Times his family and he are starting to pack up the basement of their rental house near the Farm Neck Golf Course with provisions.

“We are just buying what we think we might need. I know [the storm] isn’t supposed to last that long, but I don’t think we know how bad it’s going to be just yet, so we want to be prepared,” Govind said.

He said this is the first time he and his family have visited Martha’s Vineyard, and they were able to enjoy some warm and sunny days ahead of the storm touching down this weekend.

“We’ve had a lot of fun already — we don’t mind some wind and rain, and hopefully that’s all it is,” Govind said.

At liquor stores, folks were stocking up for the weekend while they still had the chance.

Regular Island visitor Ellen O’Brien was heading into Our Market in Oak Bluffs to buy some libations for her friend when she spoke with The Times.

“We are just getting ready for the storm. We’re Bostonians anyway, so we are used to these kinds of nor’easters.”

She commented on how busy the store was, as folks struggled to inch their way into parking spaces and others tried to escape the congested lot.

“We Bostonians are used to that, too,” she laughed.

O’Brien said she doesn’t drink, so she is grabbing snacks for herself and liquor for her friends as they weather the storm.

Earlier in the day Friday, Edgartown harbormaster Charlie Blair had this advice for boat owners based on the forecast, noting that it’s a similar landfall that was seen with Hurricane Bob 30 years ago this week.

“Haul your boat out of the water,” he said. “This looks like the same track as Bob and Edgartown was a bowling alley — 50 to 60 boats on the beach.”

Blair said all reservations for the weekend in Edgartown have been canceled. “We’re chasing them out of here,” he said.

Nantucket has also canceled mooring reservations.

Babcock said while the landfall would be the same as Bob, that was a Category 2 hurricane at landfall with sustained winds of 115 mph. 

The forecast also calls for a storm surge of 3 to 5 feet and depending on when it hits it could be intensified by the astronomical high tides created by the full moon this weekend. 

Blair said he’ll be busy Friday moving computers out of harm’s way at his office “A 3- to 5-foot storm surge is over the top of my desk in the office,” he said. “That’s not good.”

Projected paths have the storm affecting the Island Sunday into Monday. Some models have it passing the Vineyard to the east, which would mean more rain and flooding. Others have it passing to the west, which would mean destructive winds for the Island, causing tree damage. Either way, the Vineyard is in the cone of uncertainty.

The Steamship Authority has alerted customers to possible cancellations. Ferries to and from Oak Bluffs will be diverted through Vineyard Haven Saturday. (More details below.)  “At this point we are not able to add trips ahead of the storm,” SSA spokesman Sean Driscoll told The Times.

Peter Wells, operator of the Chappy Ferry, told The Times he has already put up a sign saying there will be no service on Sunday. 

Airport director Geoff Freeman said the Martha’s Vineyard Airport is monitoring the current weather forecast and has advised all their tenants, both aeronautical and non-aeronautical, of the potential storm threat. Additionally, staff have been securing equipment and buildings to prepare for strong winds.

According to Freeman, the airlines themselves have been keeping a close eye on the situation as it develops, although no operational changes have been made as of yet.

With that said, he anticipates there will be delays, if not cancellations, over the weekend and specifically on Sunday, but adjustments to flight schedules are determined by each individual airline.

The airport stays open during weather events like these, and only usually closes for snow removal or incidents at the airport.

Babcock said winds of up to 40 mph may be felt as early as 8 or 9 pm on Saturday. At the latest, the storm’s winds will begin to be felt by early Sunday morning between 4 and 5 am, he said.

Some forecasts have indicated the storm could stall over New England. “It’s possible. The storm has been really a pain in the you-know-what as far as forecasting goes,” Babcock said. “It all comes down to a disturbance in the atmosphere about five miles up. It wasn’t even in the forecast data earlier this week. Each day it’s developed more and more in the forecast data. Forecasters thought it would grab Henri and it would go further west.”

Like Blair, Babcock recommends Vineyarders and visitors begin making preparations for the storm. 

“At this point, you have two days — today and tomorrow to make your preparations,” Babcock said Friday morning. “The storm track is going to shift back and forth a little bit. That’s not easy to live with, but we have to. That’s Mother Nature. We are expecting more confidence with time.”

Blair said 30 boats were hauled out in Edgartown on Thursday and Martha’s Vineyard Shipyard worked until midnight to pull boats.

“They’re doing a great job,” he said.

Tisbury harbormaster John Crocker hasn’t seen too much urgency yet among boat owners, though he thinks the change in forecast from Thursday to Friday will kick in.

“What we really need people to do is get their dinghies off the dinghy floats,” he said. “Our goal is to get the dinghy floats out of the water. There are a ton of them right now… It relieves a lot of stress on them and we need to clear them and get them out of the water.”

No more boats will be allowed in Vineyard Haven Harbor, he said. “We are not renting out any more transient moorings to reduce the number of vessels in here,” he said.

In Chilmark harbormaster Ryan Rossi said all transient mariners have been notified that they have to be out of Menemsha by 11 am Saturday. In mooring areas, it is recommended that boats get hauled out of the water or to prepare it as best they can for the storm. 

Fire Chief Jeremy Bradshaw said the Chilmark Fire Department is making sure all trucks and pumps are full, chainsaws are ready, and personnel have been notified. “We are standing ready,” he said.

Meanwhile, Tisbury Fire Chief Greg LeLand went door-to-door on Beach Road on Friday morning alerting business owners about the storm and urging preparations for expected flooding.

In Oak Bluffs, Fire Chief Nelson Wirtz told The Times that meetings with the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency and the National Weather Service are ongoing to track the storm. Oak Bluffs Emergency Management is checking shelter supplies and preparing staff should a shelter be needed, Wirtz said. Here’s what you need to know about storm preparedness.

SSA announces ferry plans

The Steamship Authority issued an alert for ferry passengers in an email from spokesman Sean Driscoll. Here’s what anyone traveling by ferry needs to know: 

  • The Steamship Authority has established a dedicated page for its Tropical Storm Henri operational updates at www.steamshipauthority.com/Henri.
  • Customers who have an existing reservation to travel off Nantucket or Martha’s Vineyard on Sunday or Monday and who do not rebook their travel will be able to travel on standby after the storm. However it may be several days before the SSA is able to accommodate them based on the current bookings for travel. The SSA’s ability to add additional service next week will be limited, if not impossible, so customers should plan accordingly.
  • All travel on the Vineyard route will be reservation-only through Monday, August 30, 2021. No general standby travel will be permitted, but customers who had reservations on a trip that is canceled due to the storm will be allowed to travel on standby during this time. Island residents with emergency or medical needs during this time should contact the terminals for assistance.
  • Change and cancellation fees are waived for the duration of this storm.
  • Online booking is currently unavailable for trips scheduled through and including Wednesday, August 25, 2021. Anyone who wishes to move their currently scheduled trip to another day in that time frame must call the Mashpee Reservation Office at 508-477-8600.
  • The Oak Bluffs Terminal will be closed on Saturday, August 21, 2021, in advance of the storm. All trips to and from Oak Bluffs will be diverted to Vineyard Haven.
  • Preferred space for Island residents will continue to open on its normal schedule.


Later in the day, the SSA sent an update:
The storm is tracking more to the west than originally forecast, but it remains likely that service to both Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket will be lost for the bulk of Sunday. It is possible service will continue to be affected on Monday, but it will depend on how quickly winds die down from Sunday night into Monday.

  • The SSA is working with freight shippers and making other changes to optimize our vessel loads so we can open up as many vehicle spaces off Martha’s Vineyard as possible on Saturday, August 21, 2021. Anyone who is looking to rebook their off-island trip should contact the Reservation Office at 508-477-8600. 
  • Also, the Oak Bluffs Terminal will be staffed on Saturday for people who wish to try and change a reservation in person, although ferry traffic will be diverted to Vineyard Haven. We are asking everyone who wants to book in person to please go to Oak Bluffs to keep foot traffic manageable in Vineyard Haven.

This is a developing story. Reporters Rich Saltzberg, Lucas Thors, and intern Eunki Seonwoo contributed to this story.


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