Weakened Hurricane Earl fails to make its mark on LI
His name was Earl and, as far as most Long Islanders were concerned Friday, when it comes to hurricanes he was nothing but a blowhard.
Forecasters had touted the potential for howling winds and teeming rains leaving downed trees and utility poles in his wake. In the end, Hurricane Earl was mostly hot air.
The 145 mph winds that made Earl a fierce Category 4 hurricane Thursday dissipated Friday, as Earl turned into a Category 1 storm with winds of 75 mph - just one mile above the minimum hurricane speed limit - as he passed Long Island 150 miles east in the Atlantic Ocean.
Sustained winds on the East End, where Earl's damage was supposed to be greatest, reached just 24 mph. The strongest local gust clocked in at 35 mph in Westhampton Beach - not quite tropical storm strength.
In fact, forecasters said the cold front being drawn in behind Earl as the storm moves northward toward Cape Cod figures to produce stronger winds Saturday than Earl did here Friday.
Though it will be warm and sunny Saturday on Long Island, wind gusts will potentially be in the high 30s. A high surf advisory - courtesy of Earl - remains in effect until 6 p.m. Saturday for Atlantic Ocean beaches, where dangerous rip currents are expected throughout the day.
Still, Long Islanders were thankful Earl went for a walk on the mild side and took a track that kept him away from us.
"It never was forecast to be a direct hit, anyway," National Weather Service spokesman Brandon Smith said early Saturday. He said what forecasters did expect was that Earl would hit the Island with winds swirling on its outer edges - but that a last-second jog to the east kept those winds away.
"We thought we'd get beach erosion, large surf and some coastal flooding," Smith said. "Which we did get. What we didn't get was the wind."
Or, much of the rain, either. The highest rainfall total was in Westhampton Beach, which got 2.18 inches, according to the weather service. Two inches was recorded in Southampton and weather service headquarters in Upton saw .62 inches.
Nassau County saw a trace amount of rain, at most.
Powerful waves pounded South Shore beaches, mostly as East End residents and Labor Day vacationers looked on - as if Earl were nothing more than a holiday attraction.
And parts of Dune Road flooded, which has happened with lesser storms than Earl.
"We did not get the winds we expected," Joseph Williams, the Suffolk County emergency management commissioner said Friday evening. "But we did get the big surf. The biggest problem we're going to have is erosion."
As East Hampton Town superintendent of recreation John Rooney said Friday, noting a pre-dawn high tide could cause additional erosion Saturday: "Right now the beaches are all under water. People will be itching to get to the beaches, but there may not be a lot left between the water and the dune."
Officials said they would canvas Suffolk Saturday to assess storm damage, make repairs and clean up any debris. That included a survey of beach erosion.
Part of the reason Long Island escaped virtually unscathed was because Earl wasn't much of a hurricane. But it helped that officials in both counties took the threat of Earl seriously - closing beaches, preparing to open emergency shelters, suspending train service, and mobilizing emergency crews - in the event of a worst-case scenario.
On Thursday, Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy ordered all county beaches closed to swimmers until further notice. On Friday, Nassau County executive Ed Mangano did the same with Nassau beaches. And the state parks department issued a prohibition against swimming at Jones Beach, Robert Moses State Park, Hither Hills State Park and Orient Beach Park until further notice.
The Long Island Rail Road, which suspended service Friday on the East End, said it will run all of its Montauk branch trains Saturday and will even add two eastbound trains from Penn Station - one at 8:40 a.m., the other at 11:16 a.m.
The Long Island Power Authority, which anticipated the hurricane might cause thousands, maybe even tens of thousands, of power outages, instead saw just dozens.
It had hired more than 450 trucks and 1,600 extra linemen from out of state to supplement its own available staff of 675 emergency crew members.
As of 2:45 a.m. Saturday there were 18 outages on all of Long Island - and those weren't necessarily attributable to the storm.
Earl did create nasty, roiling surf along the South Shore, where waves as high as 17 feet crashed into beaches at Smith Point Park and Montauk Point. In Westhampton Beach, people thronged to beaches Friday afternoon and evening to watch the pounding of 10-foot surf.
Fire Island Ferries in Bay Shore were halted at 3 p.m. Friday. But a notice on the ferries website said service is expected to resume Saturday morning.
About a dozen flights, mostly outgoing, were canceled out of MacArthur Airport, Southwest spokesman Paul Flaningan said. The airline is planning to resume its normal flight schedule at about 10 a.m. Saturday morning, he said.
All things considered, Long Island fared much better than it expected earlier in the week.
A Category 4 hurricane when it angled north up the Atlantic Coast, Earl downgraded to a Category 2 storm late Wednesday and then regrouped overnight into Thursday - again becoming a Category 4 hurricane.
The National Hurricane Center classifies hurricanes in five categories, five being the worst. A Category 5 hurricane has sustained winds above 155 mph, while winds in a Category 4 storm are between 131 to 155 mph. A Category 3 is between 111 to 130 mph, a Category 2 is between 96 to 110 mph and a Category 1 is between 74 to 95 mph.
Ocean temperatures "several degrees above normal" in the Atlantic Ocean off New Jersey, New York Harbor and Long Island suggested Earl might maintain its strength, according to meteorologists at the National Data Buoy Center, since hurricanes feed on warm water. And forecasters said Thursday Earl had the chance to become the fiercest hurricane to affect Long Island in two decades - if it maintained its wind speeds.
But overnight Earl began to fizzle as it became a Category 2 storm and then a Category 1 storm. By the time Earl passed off the East End of Long Island he was barely a hurricane, with sustained winds of just 75 mph. And despite having "flattened out," that is becoming what the National Hurricane Center termed a wide, massive tropical cyclone, the biggest winds Earl was packing never touched Long Island.
Outside their oceanfront home on Dune Road, Peter and Phyllis Epstein tied down their outdoor furniture at 3 p.m. - just in case. But the winds and waves spawned by Earl proved mere inconvenience.
"We are protected by the jetties that hold in the sand," Peter Epstein said Friday afternoon, "but we hope the erosion won't be too bad."
That's still to be determined, to assess what damage, if any, Earl left in his wake. One thing was certain Friday night, though: Earl is no longer a hurricane. Having passed Long Island, the National Hurricane Center said winds had dropped below 74 mph - and reclassified Earl as a tropical storm at 11 p.m.
As of 8 a.m. Saturday Earl was 40 miles south of Cape Bable, Nova Scotia with maximum winds of about 70 mph. Earlier, the National Hurricane Center said: "Additional weakening is forecast during the next 48 hours."
So much for all the hullabaloo. Goodbye, Earl.
With Yamiche Alcindor, Alfonso A. Castillo, Sophia Chang, Mark Harrington, Bart Jones and Debbie Tuma