This story was reported by John Asbury, Rachelle Blidner, Vera Chinese, Scott Eidler, Mark Harrington, Michael O'Keeffe, Keldy Ortiz, Jean-Paul Salamanca and Dandan Zou. It was written by Blidner and Eidler.
Tropical Storm Henri pummeled Long Island with heavy rain, coastal erosion, and flooding that could last through Monday, but had weakened Sunday evening, sparing the region from hurricane-force winds predicted earlier.
Henri made landfall on the coast of Rhode Island Sunday afternoon, packing high winds that knocked out power to tens of thousands of homes and bands of rain that led to flash flooding from New Jersey to Massachusetts.
Long Islanders were more fortunate, with just 5 customers without power at about 1:30 a.m. Monday, according to PSEG Long Island.
A few hours before, the storm had started losing much of its steam.
A tropical storm warning for the region ended Sunday evening, the National Weather Service said in its final Henri briefing at 8 p.m., but a flood watch remains in effect through Monday.
Heavy downpours are likely with northwest Long Island seeing the most, possibly between 2 to 4 inches, according to the weather service.
Regardless of what Henri's remnants could bring, it failed to live up to earlier predictions, which was just fine with some Long Islanders.
"It was mellow. I was surprised," said Dom Spada, first assistant chief of the Halesite Fire Department near Huntington Bay on the North Shore. "I think the storm was very benign and it was a typical day at the firehouse."
Howard Goldstein, 62, of Northport, came to Skipper's Pub in the village with his wife after they heard from friends the restaurant was open. He took a lighthearted approach as it became clear Henri's worst missed Long Island.
"It was a lot of nothing. I want a new storm and I want my money back," he said. "I saw the track of the storm and knew nothing was going to happen."
Henri hard to miss
Even without hurricane force winds and widespread power outages, Henri's strength was hard to miss anywhere on the Island, but especially on the East End, where sustained winds peaked at between 25 to 40 mph.
The highest wind report was 69 mph out of Great Gull Island, but most other wind updates from Suffolk put the gusts in the high 30s and 40s range.
That was far less than the more than 80-mph gusts forecast late Saturday, when a persistent drenching rain fell across the Island.
Even before 2 p.m. Sunday — at one point, about the time Henri was predicted to hit the Island — heavy rain had already fallen in Nassau, from a little bit over an inch in Syosset to 3.86 inches in Massapequa Park. In Suffolk, it ranged from 1.6 inches in Selden to 2.91 in West Babylon.
By early Monday, Seaford topped the list for rainfall in Nassau with 5.1 inches, according to a weather service tally. In Suffolk, Central Islip recorded the most rain with just over 4 inches recorded.
In its Sunday night briefing, the weather service said flash flooding "is still a major concern through Monday."
A flood watch for Long Island has been extended through Monday evening, the weather service said.
Periods of isolated strong-to-severe thunderstorms are possible Monday afternoon and evening, according to the briefing.
A high risk of rip currents through Tuesday will make swimming on south-facing beaches hazardous.
Thousands had to leave Fire Island under emergency voluntary evacuation orders, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said Saturday. On Monday, the Fire Island National Seashore will have "limited visitor services … after experiencing minimal damage during Tropical Storm Henri," according to a statement from the U.S. Parks Service.
"Designated lifeguarded beach areas will remain closed on Monday … due to hazardous surf conditions," the statement said.
Jones Beach saw flooding in parking fields, said George Gorman, regional director of Long Island state parks.
The administration parking field was under 2 to 3 feet of water, he said. Crews used a bulldozer to fill breaches there with sand.
Monday "is looking like it will be fine but we have had storms where the last tide cycle caused damage and erosion," he said.
Crews will pump the water out of the parking lots and create a trough to drain pools and move water at higher points back into the ocean, Gorman said.
At the Nautical Mile in Freeport on Sunday, Village Mayor Robert Kennedy said that even with new technology to prevent road flooding, the problem was the high amount of rain falling so quickly.
"The existing storm system may not be able to handle that quantity of water in that shorter period," he said.
The more dire forecast ahead of the storm set the stage for a potential calamity on Long Island, especially on the East End.
But as Henri shifted by late morning, the sun had pushed through the clouds above Montauk.
"Fortunately, we were spared from the worst of the storm," National Weather Service meteorologist Dominic Rammuni said.
Bad for business
Speaking Sunday afternoon outside his store at the mostly quiet Mount Sinai Shopping Center in Mount Sinai, George Moss, of Smithtown, said he had seen far stronger storms than Henri.
"The shopping center is empty because people think it’s dangerous outside and it’s not," Moss said. "I don’t even see one tree down here."
He said advanced billing that Henri could be the first hurricane in three decades to make a direct hit on Long Island put some in a panic.
"There’s a lot of hype out there that’s not good for the public," Moss said. "It forced everyone to buy gas. I already had a full tank of gas so I didn’t need to buy, but now a lot of gas stations have no gas left."
On Saturday, the pumps were dry by nightfall at several filling stations in Huntington.
Dan Losquadro, Brookhaven’s highway superintendent, said the town had not seen much flooding Sunday along roads away from coastal areas.
"With all the water impounded in the Long Island Sound by the rotation of the storm, we actually expect [Sunday night's] high tide to be the worst of that inundation, so we have some of those roads blocked off," Losquadro said. "Right now, we’re in good shape, but we’ll continue to monitor it through the evening with our police department and public safety division."
On Main Street in Northport, town officials blocked off the docks as water poured out of drains into the harbor from flooded roadways.
Several businesses along Main Street were closed while store owners piled sandbags in front of their doors. But some restaurants remained opened Sunday during the storm, offering shelter to weary customers stuck at home.
Skipper’s owner Paul Gallowitsch said he opened at noon with his full crew after assessing the storm. He said he hosted a steady flow of customers at the bar and reservations for dinner.
On the South Shore, which typically can fare the worst in large Atlantic storms, Mastic Beach had streets with about a foot of water.
In Southampton Town, back roads began to flood around 10 a.m. amid worsening conditions, with waves picking up and branches falling down. Police blocked cars from heading south on the Ponquogue Bridge to Dune Road in Hampton Bays.
On the North Fork, rain was steady, but winds were quiet around 10 a.m. In Port Jefferson, light flooding was visible along the side of the road on North Country Road around 9 a.m.
The North Ferry, which connects Greenport to Shelter Island, was running on Sunday morning. Most businesses were closed, with some boarded up and sandbags piled up outside.
In Nassau County, there were more than 30 motor vehicle accidents since rain began Saturday night, officials said.
Eye of storm veers east
The National Hurricane Center had predicted Henri would barrel onto Long Island with the eye of the storm striking Montauk, with hurricane warnings in effect from Port Jefferson and Mastic Beach to the East End. But the storm veered east after reaching the minimum strength needed to be called a hurricane, Rammuni said.
The center downgraded the storm around 7 a.m. Sunday because sustained winds fell below 75 mph, according to the National Weather Service.
"This is the best outcome we could’ve hoped for," meteorologist Bill Korbel told Newsday's Faith Jessie.
By Sunday night, the storm continued losing strength.
"Henri has weakened to a weak tropical storm across CT and will continue to weaken as it drifts northwest through [Sunday evening]," the final briefing said.
Outgoing Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran and Suffolk's Bellone all called the storm's downgrade "good news" and touted the preparations officials had made in case the forecast was as bad as predicted.
Southampton Town officials went door to door on Dune Road, asking people to leave and informing them what should happen should "God forbid" they need to be rescued after deciding to stay, town emergency management administrator Ryan Murphy said on MSNBC.
"Well, we’re catching a little bit of a break, believe it or not," said Steven Skrynecki, Southampton Town police chief. "This is bad, but we thought it would be worse."
The forecast did not deter some other people, even as officials urged residents to stay inside.
Bill Luzzi traveled to Long Beach from Lynbrook and believed the conditions were fine for him to surf.
"They’re about head-high, fun, clean waves, and the wind is cooperating right now, creating fun surfing conditions," Luzzi said. "When you spend a lot of time around the ocean … you know your limits, and I wasn’t really hesitant at all."