It appeared that hell would have no fury like Hurricane Irene—but, when all was said and done, the East End emerged relatively unscathed from Mother Nature’s wrath.
Major impacts from the hurricane-turned-tropical-storm included massive power outages, scores of downed trees and some flooding—but no loss of life or major incidents.
And, experts agree—preparation made all the difference.
“We had plenty of lead time,” said Tim Morrin, the observation program leader at the National Weather Service office in Upton. “We had plenty of warning, days and days in advance.”
Tropical storms and hurricanes, Mr. Morrin said, give experts “an amazing amount of preparation time” as the storms typically traverse hundreds of miles and are visible via satellite, allowing for the ability to track them days before they make landfall.
The early forecast “empowered constituents and public to be ready—and local residents really took it seriously,” he said, clearing store shelves of essentials such as batteries and water. “The message was clear and concise and the public took it seriously—and it kept them out of harm’s way,” Mr. Morrin said.
The hurricane, he added, was an education for many. “It’s been a long time” since a hurricane hit the East End, Mr. Morrin said, adding that many have never experienced the threat of such a major weather event. Social media “helped tremendously” in public outreach efforts and is a tremendous resource, Mr. Morrin added.
The National Hurricane Center in Florida first started issuing advisories on Saturday, August 20, at 7 p.m. Hurricane Irene began as a tropical storm located 190 miles off Dominica and 215 miles east-southeast of Guadalupe, according to David Start, meteorologist for the National Weather Service.
From the first projections, which had the storm barreling straight toward the East End, to Sunday’s landfall over New York City at approximately 9 a.m., East End public officials operated on full alert, ordering evacuations, operating emergency shelters—and using social media and any means possible to spread the word and keep residents safe.
“We were on top of it right from the beginning,” Mr. Morrin said.
Despite the fact that Hurricane Irene hit the area as a Category 1 hurricane, and was not downgraded to a tropical storm until 11 a.m. Sunday, conditions on the East End were on the low end of the Category 1 spectrum, meaning that wind gusts of up to 73 mph were recorded.
In the end, Suffolk County saw between 2 and 6 inches of rain—rainfall in Bridgehampton totaled 1.36 inches while Northport was soaked with 6.78 inches—with higher amounts reported across western Long Island. “The outer bands were not as frequent in the eastern section,” Mr. Morrin said.
But, he said, winds were stronger on the East End; Bridgehampton recorded 65 mph winds, Montauk Point recorded 49 mph and wind gusts of 37 mph were recorded at Gabreski Airport in Westhampton.
And despite the fact that the wind fields weakened as they headed toward the East End, tropical storm force winds of 30 to 40 mph “stayed with us all day” on Sunday, Mr. Morrin said, “a testimony to the large wind field of the storm.”
Most residents felt the impact from the hurricane beginning at 11 p.m. on Saturday until approximately 1 p.m. on Sunday, when conditions began to noticeably improve.
Downed trees sparked the need for major cleanup across the East End. “The unfortunate part was that we had a very wet August, so root systems and soil were weak, with erosion in the root layers. The trees came down easier than they would have otherwise,” Mr. Morrin said.
After heading north on Sunday, the hurricane cut a vicious swath toward the lower Hudson Valley, with rivers and streams rushing furiously, taking out bridges and felling trees.
Following is a time line of Hurricane Irene’s dramatic approach to the East End:
Wednesday, August 24
Initial reports from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said the storm was heading toward the East End.
Governor Andrew Cuomo ordered New York State’s office of emergency management to open and prepare for the potential impact of Hurricane Irene.
Thursday, August 25, 5:28 p.m.
NOAA’s updated storm trajectory indicated that Hurricane Irene had shifted a bit to the west, with hardest hit areas expected to be in Nassau County.
The Category 3 hurricane, with 115 mph winds, was located in the middle of the Bahamas, with bands beginning to impact southern Florida.