PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — The National Hurricane Center has downgraded Hurricane Lee to a post-tropical cyclone, but millions of people along coastal New England and eastern Canada remained under storm watches and rain warnings Saturday because of the threat of winds and torrential hurricane strength.
Severe conditions were forecast in parts of Massachusetts and Maine, and hurricane conditions could hit the Canadian provinces of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, where the storm is expected to make landfall later Saturday.
The storm was located at 8 a.m. EDT Saturday about 185 miles (365 kilometers) southwest of Halifax, Nova Scotia, and about 160 miles (355 kilometers) south-southeast of Eastport, Maine. It was moving north at a speed of 25 mph (41 km/h), with maximum wind gusts of 80 mph (129 km/h).
A state of emergency was declared for Massachusetts and Maine, the country’s most forested states, as heavy summer rains saturated the ground and weakened trees.
There were about 20,000 power outages from Massachusetts to Maine early Saturday. There were reports of downed trees in Hancock and Washington counties in eastern Maine, according to Todd Foisy, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Maine.
“We still have a long way to go and are already seeing fallen trees and power outages,” Foisy said Saturday.
Peak gusts are expected to reach 70 mph (113 km/h) along the coast of eastern Maine, but there will also be gusts up to 50 mph (80 km/h) across a more than 400-mile-wide swath from Moosehead Lake in Maine eastward the ocean goes all the way in, he said.
Cruise ships found refuge at docks in Portland, while lobstermen in Bar Harbor, Maine, and elsewhere pulled their expensive traps from the water and towed their boats inland, leaving some ports looking like ghost towns Friday.
Lee had already lashed the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Bahamas and Bermuda before turning north, and heavy swells are expected to cause “life-threatening surf and rip current conditions” in the U.S. and Canada, the hurricane center said.
Parts of Maine’s coast could see waves as high as 15 feet (4.5 meters), causing erosion and damage, and the strong gusts will lead to power outages, said Louise Fode, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Maine. Up to 5 inches (12 centimeters) of rain was forecast for eastern Maine, where a flash flood warning was in effect.
Yet even as they hunkered down and prepared, the New Englanders seemed unconcerned with the possibility of severe weather.
In Maine, where people are used to devastating winter nor’easters, some dismissed the upcoming lee as something similar to those storms only without the snow.
“There will be huge white rollers coming up with winds of 50 to 60 miles per hour. “It’s going to be pretty entertaining,” Bar Harbor lobsterman Bruce Young said Friday. Still, he had his boat taken to the local airport, saying it was better to be safe than sorry.
On Long Island, commercial lobsterman Steve Train pulled 200 traps from the water Friday. Train, who is also a firefighter, wanted to wait out the storm on the island in Casco Bay.
He wasn’t worried about staying there in the storm. “Not one bit,” he said.
In Canada, Ian Hubbard, meteorologist for Environment and Climate Change Canada and the Canadian Hurricane Center, said leeward will not be nearly as strong as the remnants of Hurricane Fiona, which washed homes into the sea and knocked out power in most of two provinces and a year ago a woman was washed into the sea.
But it was still a dangerous storm. Kyle Leavitt, director of the New Brunswick Emergency Management Organization, urged residents to stay home, saying, “Nothing good can come from watching the big waves and seeing how strong the wind really is.”
Destructive hurricanes are relatively rare this far north. The Great New England Hurricane of 1938 brought gusts of up to 186 mph (300 km/h) and sustained winds of 121 mph (195 km/h) at the Blue Hill Observatory in Massachusetts. However, there have been no such strong storms in recent years.
The region learned the hard way Hurricane Irene In 2011, this damage is not always limited to the coast. Downgraded to a tropical storm, Irene still caused over $800 million in damages in Vermont.
Sharp and Whittle reported from Portland. Associated Press writer Rob Gillies in Toronto contributed.