Updated Sept. 15 7:52 pm
Hurricane Lee may bring the Island potentially hazardous tropical storm conditions as it tracks east of southern New England Friday evening into Saturday.
“Due to the large size of the system, hazards will extend well away from the center. This includes tropical storm conditions which are possible in portions of coastal New England, including Cape Cod, Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard, and Block Island beginning Friday night,” according to a statement issued by the National Weather Service (NWS). “By early Saturday, tropical storm conditions are expected to reach as far north as Down East Maine.”
Life-threatening storm surge flooding is possible, as well as dangerous surf and rip current conditions, according to the NWS. Rob Megnia, a meteorologist at the NWS Norton office, said on Friday Lee is currently considered a category 1 hurricane, with sustained wind speeds of 85 mph. Megnia said the Island can expect wind speeds between 25 mph and 35 mph, from Friday evening into Saturday.
According to a press release from the Dukes County Emergency Management Association, wind gusts of up to 50 to 60 mph are possible. A high surf advisory has been issued for Dukes County until 8 am on Sunday, with storm surges and high tides anticipated to potentially cause one to three feet of seawater inundation — the worst of which is expected early Saturday morning. Additionally, 1 to 4 inches of rain could fall between 8 pm Friday and 8 pm Saturday. Lee is the 12th named storm to form in the Atlantic in 2023, a year NOAA experts predicted to have 14 to 21 named storms.
Megnia said the storm is expected to decrease in intensity starting Saturday afternoon, although there will still be gusts. He expects weather conditions will get closer to normal around midnight on Saturday.
Ahead of the storm, Gov. Maura Healey declared a state of emergency and requested FEMA to provide assistance for response costs. The governor announced plans to activate up to 50 National Guard members for storm preparations and response, including operating highwater vehicles. Meanwhile, the Biden-Harris administration urged the public to prepare for Lee and stated the federal government is ready to support affected communities. FEMA administrator Deanne Criswell has been in contact with leaders of several New England communities, including the Massachusetts governor and leadership of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah).
At the SSA, communications director Sean Driscoll anticipes the bulk of the disruptions to happen on Saturday. “Based on how the forecast looks right now, we are absolutely going to lose service for parts of the day on the Vineyard route,” said Driscoll. On Friday morning, the SSA announced that all boats in and out of Oak Bluffs have been diverted to the Vineyard Haven terminal.
“Whether we’ll be able to get service Saturday night remains to be seen. Winds are predicted to drop off significantly, but things can change. It’s going to be a trip-by-trip situation late in the day,” said Driscoll. He expects service will resume Sunday, but it will depend on the wind and water conditions. “I prefer to let the captains make safe decisions — It’s ultimately his or her call.”
The SSA issued a statement saying that reservation change and cancellation fees will be waived for any travel booked for this weekend: Friday Sept. 15, Saturday, Sept. 16, or Sunday, Sept. 17. To change or modify a reservation, visit the SSA website, call the reservation office at 508-477-8600, or visit one of the terminals. The SSA encourages travelers to continue checking the website for further weather and operations updates.
The SSA isn’t the only one checking on vessel conditions. Tisbury harbormaster John Crocker said his department has been taking steps to prepare for the impending storm, such as inspecting boats and moorings, or moving town-owned vessels to safer areas. Crocker referred boat owners to the storm prep instructions on the Tisbury harbormaster page.
Chilmark harbormaster Ryan Rossi said he recommends boat owners move their vessels if possible. He said the fluctuation of forecasted wind speeds and the storm’s easterly movement makes it difficult to gauge how severe the damage will be. “It’s hard to tell, but we prepare for the worst and hope for the best,” Rossi said.
Other transportation services have also been affected by the storm. Hy-Line Cruises canceled all service between Martha’s Vineyard and Hyannis or Nantucket Friday and Saturday. JetBlue and Cape Air canceled Friday and Saturday flights. Vineyard Transit Authority bus services will be adjusted based on road conditions Saturday, although dialysis transportation service to Martha’s Vineyard Hospital has been rescheduled to Friday and Monday.
Islanders should prepare for the possibility of power outages. According to an alert from Eversource, they are “monitoring multiple weather forecasts and preparing for a potential multi-day response to Hurricane Lee …”
“Although the storm may weaken below hurricane levels by the time it reaches New England, it will still be large and powerful enough to potentially cause significant damage to both coastal and inland areas of eastern Massachusetts,” the alert continues.
The alert stressed that high wind speeds can bring down trees and tree branches, potentially damaging electric lines and equipment. “Many trees still have leaves on the branches, and the ground is already saturated from recent heavy rains. These conditions could contribute to increased damage from the storm,” the alert states.
Eversource is preparing for impacts to service by bringing additional resources onto the Island, spokesperson Chris McKinnon told The Times Friday. “We have about 20 line crews and five tree crews ready to work on any restoration efforts as quickly as safely possible.”
WMVY Radio on channel 88.7 FM will broadcast emergency alerts and important information in the case of an emergency event. Islanders can also sign up for CodeRED emergency messages at bit.ly/DCCodeRED. For those who may be in need of emergency shelter, check town websites for updates, or call police or fire departments for more information.
Per the Duke’s County Emergency Management Association, Islanders should take stock of home emergency kits that should include important documents, medications, health-related equipment, flashlights, batteries, non-perishables, three days worth of drinking water per person, and first aid. Be sure to stow or secure outdoor furniture, equipment, and other items.
For those seeking shelter, St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church is opening their basement to people who are currently unhoused or need a safe place away from the storm. Volunteer staff will be at the church from Friday to Saturday. Guest check-ins are from 5 pm to 8 pm. No guests will be permitted after 8 pm. The shelter has a capacity of 10 people.
For those who need a safe place to keep their livestock, the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society is offering an emergency shelter. Owners will need to provide care for their own animals during the duration of their stays, including providing bedding, food, and water. Contact the facilities manager, Chris Lyons, at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. Meanwhile, the Animal Shelter of Martha’s Vineyard, which can be contacted at 508-627-8662, is offering help for small pets’ emergency needs.
Anticipated weather conditions have prompted a handful of Island organizers to postpone planned events:
-Tisbury’s annual Tivoli Day Street Fair, which was set for Saturday, will now be held on Sunday, Sept. 17, the Oak Bluffs Business Association announced Thursday.
-The Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby’s annual Kids Day has been moved to Saturday, Sept. 24.
-The MV NAACP has postponed their annual road race until Sunday, Sept. 17.
-Hy-Line services between Hyannis and Martha’s Vineyard, along with direct inter-island trips between Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, have been canceled for both Friday and Saturday.
This is a developing story.
Abigail Rosen and Eunki Seonwoo contributed to this story.