Thunder and lightning have joined the heavy rain as Hurricane Irene approaches Queens.
The National Weather Service has issued a tornado watch for Queens until 5 a.m. Sunday. Conditions are favorable for a tornado. The area can also see hail up to half an inch in diameter and dangerous lightning.
The city has a 10 percent chance of experiencing “worst case scenario,” according to the NWS. This would include a Category 1 level storm with higher winds and storm surges.
The George Washington Bridge lower level has already shut down in both directions with more bridges expected to shut down if wind speeds make crossing too dangerous.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg said that the time for evacuation is over. He urged all residents to stay indoors and away from windows.
The mayor said that approximately 1,400 people have checked into evacuation centers.
Con Edison does not yet have plans to shut down power, but may have to if their equipment begins to get flooded. As of now Con Ed has reported eight customers in Queens without power. Assemblymember Rory Lancman said that his block in Hilcrest has lost electricity.
Irene’s center is currently about 280 miles outside of New York City. Tropical Storm level winds are already battering the area with stronger winds expected late tonight into Sunday.
Flooding may make it difficult for the trains to be ready for rush hour Monday morning. Bloomberg said to plan on a commute without mass transit on Monday.
“It’s going to be tough getting to work,” he said.
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With Hurricane Irene’s effects already beginning to be felt in Queens, Mayor Michael Bloomberg is urging residents to take the storm seriously.
“No matter what the track is, no matter how much it weakens, this is a life threatening storm to people here,” Bloomberg said at a press conference early Saturday.
The National Weather Service (NWS) issued a Hurricane Warning for Queens this morning.
Bloomberg announced mandatory evacuations for low-lying areas of the city – including all of the Rockaways yesterday.
“Staying behind is dangerous, staying behind is foolish, and it’s against the law,” he said, adding yesterday that though nobody will face fines or jail time “people might die [if they don’t evacuate].”
Rain has already begun falling in the area and should continue through Sunday evening. As much as a foot of rain is expected for Queens. The winds are forecasted to pick up Saturday evening according to the NWS with the strongest winds late Saturday until Sunday afternoon. The wind speeds are expected to be near 70 mph with gusts reaching 85 mph.
The storm tide and surge is the greatest worry, the mayor said. A storm surge of up to 8 feet is possible along the city’s shores.
“Best case scenario is high winds, a lot of rain and very high tides,” the mayor said. “You can’t prepare for the best case; you have to prepare for the worst case.”
Irene is currently battering the east coast of North Carolina. Winds speeds are currently 85 mph with higher gusts.
Governor Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency and the MTA announced service would be shut down beginning Saturday at approximately noon.
A state of emergency enables New York to use state resources to assist local governments more effectively and quickly, allows the state to activate the national “Emergency Management Assistance Compact” to bring in resources from out of the state, and enables New York to access key federal resources earlier in anticipation of an emergency.
“In this emergency I am activating all levels of state government to prepare for any situation that may be caused by Hurricane Irene,” Cuomo said. “We are communicating with our federal and local partners to track the storm and to plan a coordinated response, and we will deploy resources as needed to the areas expected to be hit the hardest. I urge New Yorkers to personally prepare for hurricane conditions and to cooperate with emergency officials if needed. By working together, we will all be able to face this storm in a calm and organized manner.”
The cleanup is just one of the steps the city is taking to prepare for the storm. The city activated its command center at the OEM yesterday and the mayor said that the NYPD, FDNY, transportation, health and buildings departments were taking extra steps to handle whatever emergencies the storm might cause.
The strength of the winds associated with Irene the Department of Buildings has warned residents to secure outdoor objects that can become dangerous projectiles in the heavy winds. Loose, lightweight objects such as lawn furniture, potted plants, garbage cans, garden tools and toys should be brought inside. Gas grills and propane tanks should be anchored. Windows should be secured.
Stay with The Courier for updates as they become available.