September 4, 2010

Earl”˜s Bark Worse Than Its Bite

A weakened Tropical Storm Earl brushed Nantucket and the outer regions of Cape Cod early Saturday and did little damage as it raced northeast toward Nova Scotia, leaving coastal homeowners and vacationers to breathe a sigh of relief as the Holiday weekend got underway.

As Earl moved past New Jersey, its eye was about 200 miles offshore, producing only heavy rain and minimal gusts as it passed.

The fearsome Category 4 hurricane of days earlier continuously weakened as it sideswiped the eastern US coastline. Now a tropical storm, Earl caused high surf, minor street flooding and scattered power outages as it passed 90 miles southeast of Nantucket overnight. By dawn it was headed toward Nova Scotia as a still-weakening tropical storm.

"At this point it's almost business as usual," said Scott MacLeod, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency. "The biggest issue we had was some very localized flooding, and at this point even that has been resolved."

Nantucket, which had expected the worst of the storm, saw only two inches of rain and hadn't even appeared to knock down any trees or power lines.

The wet weather didn't deter most people from enjoying their Friday evenings. While most businesses in Nantucket closed early, some bars and restaurants stayed open as long as possible, with a few even hosting "hurricane parties."

Some partiers taunted the hurricane with signs including, "Dear Earl, please come in and have a drink," and "Earl, we are open."

Earl, however, was not all play and no work. It did cause some havoc with Labor Day travel, prompting suspension of Amtrak train service between New York and Boston until Saturday morning and leading Continental Airlines to cancel some 60 flights. It shut boat harbors down and the airport on Nantucket, leaving the island without a connection to Massachusetts mainland.

During a Friday briefing, emergency officials in Chatham, Mass. said the diminished storm would likely leave only scattered power outages and downed trees.

"Basically, we're considering it a major northeaster, and we're used to that," said Michael Ambriscoe, Chatham's fire chief. "We just want the tourists to stay inside and not go running down to the beach."

Heavy rain fell and a steady wind blew on eastern Long Island between 8 and 10 pm Friday night, when forecasters predicted that Earl would pass closest to New York State. By 11 pm Friday, the National Hurricane Center had downgraded Earl to a tropical storm with maximum sustained winds of 70 miles per hour, and had altered or lifted warnings in several areas of New England.

After brushing Long Island, Earl moved northeast pulling away from coast as it continued to drop heavy rain on Nantucket and other areas of Massachusetts just before midnight.

Earl was expected to make landfall in Nova Scotia sometime early Saturday morning producing tropical storm gusts and continued heavy rain. However, the once powerful Category 4 storm has lost most all of its energy as it races through the colder north Atlantic waters.


Image Caption: This image from the GOES-13 satellite at 7:32 a.m. EDT on September 3 shows a huge Hurricane Earl northeast of North Carolina with cloud cover stretching over the northeastern U.S. A disorganized Fiona is located in the bottom right side of this image. (Credit: NOAA/NASA GOES Project)


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