The Long Island region began to brace for a possible close encounter with Hurricane Earl this weekend as it rolled through the Caribbean Monday and was upgraded to a Category 4 storm packing a 135-mph punch.
Although Earl was on track to pass east of Long Island as it churns up the Atlantic coast, the fifth hurricane of the season was still likely to bring another round of rough surf, rip currents and large ocean swells, triggering small-craft warnings just as Danielle did last weekend, forecasters said.
Joe Pollina, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Upton, said Hurricane Earl is likely to cause rip currents Friday.
The National Hurricane Center in Miami said Earl was most likely to come ashore in North Carolina as it swerves north. But the margin of error in predicting its path is 200 to 300 miles. While the current forecast tracks the hurricane east of Long Island, variables like other weather systems could bring it ashore here.
The Long Island Power Authority and county officials aren't taking any chances. LIPA prepared its emergency equipment for restoring power, crews were alerted to the potential need for extra hours and vacation rosters were reviewed. Private electric and tree removal contractors are also being put on notice.
"This is an intense storm that could significantly impact parts of Long Island," LIPA chief executive Kevin Law said.
Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano said the Office of Emergency Management had already begun its 120-hour hurricane countdown of preparation Sunday. That includes communicating with other municipalities to coordinate responses, checking on shelters to make sure they are ready to be opened, testing emergency generators, looking at scheduled events to see if they might pose a safety problem, and driving evacuation routes to make sure they are not blocked by construction projects.
In Suffolk, County Executive Steve Levy said officials have reviewed staff schedules in case they need to deploy emergency personnel. Also, Emergency Operations Center computers and phone lines were tested and all county vehicles fueled.
Ronald Foley, state parks regional director, said full lifeguard coverage will be in place through Monday. "We may close beaches from time to time" if high surf and rip currents threatened swimmers.
Monday, beachgoers exercised caution after rip currents, stirred up by Danielle, hit the local beaches.
Others weren't so lucky.
A man in his 50s injured his head and neck last night while on a boogie board off Atlantic Beach, police said.
The man, who may have struck his head on a sandbar, police said, was flown about 7:30 p.m. to the Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow where he was listed in stable condition, police said.
At Westhampton Beach, a woman approached lifeguard Mike Malloy and asked about venturing into the ocean. He suggested she wade in only up to her knees to get cool. After a moment, she thanked him for the suggestion.
"There's a bad undertow," Malloy said. "The sets [of waves] are coming out of nowhere."
Rip currents had forced the village beach to close Saturday before it was reopened Monday. Beach manager Steve Wisnoski said, "We have dangerous rip currents and a very vicious shore break." He reported that four people were pulled out of the water Monday.
Long Beach lifeguard supervisor Tom Daly said that on Sunday lifeguards carried out one rescue with seven people who were caught in rip current, probably caused by Danielle.
"That's what's most dangerous is flash rips," said Daly, noting that lifeguards at the beaches' 24 stations would strive to move people out of areas with recurring riptides. "Don't fight it."
Harvey Bennett, a fishing guide and owner of the Tackle Shop in Amagansett, was worried about Earl's impact on business. "I am as nervous as I can be. This is one of the big three weekends, this is what we call getaway money or vacation money."
With Sid Cassese, Mitchell Freedman, Bill Mason and Debbie Tuma