Atlantic Coast Braces as Lee Begins to Bring High Winds and Rain

Lee, which was downgraded from a hurricane to a post-tropical cyclone early Saturday, brought gusty winds, rain and dangerous surf conditions to coastal communities in New England early Saturday, as the center of the much-anticipated storm approached landfall near the U.S.-Canadian border.

As Lee inched closer on Friday, Maine opened emergency shelters, residents in New England were urged to secure their boats ashore and Nova Scotia urged preparations for power outages and floods. Early Saturday, tropical-storm-force winds, which forecasters warned could down trees and knock out power, were occurring in Massachusetts and Nova Scotia, the National Hurricane Center said.

“Winds continue to be the biggest concern with Lee,” said the National Weather Service office in Portland, Maine, early Saturday.

For more than a week, residents in eastern Canada and along the Eastern Seaboard of the United States have kept a wary eye on the slow-moving storm, which startled scientists earlier with how rapidly it had intensified and at one point led many people to worry that it could slam into the U.S. coast with devastating consequences.

“It has been a very long buildup,” said Todd Foisy, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Caribou, Maine. “But that’s good news for us because we could see it coming,” he added. “We had time to prepare.”

In recent days, the storm, which was once a Category 5 hurricane with sustained winds of more than 157 miles per hour, weakened as it moved over cooler, northern waters. Though scientists say it still could inflict heavy damage across a broad area of New England and the Canadian Maritime Provinces, forecasters no longer considered the storm a catastrophic threat and instead likened Lee to a forceful Nor’easter. It was expected to make landfall Saturday afternoon in Nova Scotia.

Early Saturday, hours ahead of landfall, parts of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia were under a hurricane watch, meaning winds of 74 m.p.h. or higher. A tropical storm warning, with winds from 39 to 73 m.p.h. was issued for parts of Massachusetts, including the islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. In eastern Maine, western Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, about two to five inches of rain was expected overnight, forecasters said.

“While the storm may be weakening, it is still a significant storm,” John Lohr, a member of the Nova Scotia Legislature who is responsible for the province’s emergency management office, said in a news conference on Friday.

Officials have advised residents of southwestern Nova Scotia, which appeared to be directly in the storm’s path, to stock up on food and water — and to keep cars away from trees, which may be felled by high winds.

Compared with the intense storms that tend to hit the southern half of the United States, Lee has moved more slowly — and become more sprawling. Its gusting winds will not break speed records but could still cause hazardous storm surge and power outages.

People in Martha’s Vineyard removed their boat from the water on Friday in anticipation of the storm. Credit…Matt Cosby for The New York Times

In a region that is used to winter Nor’easters, this late summer storm brings a different set of challenges. Coastal flood warnings have forced some seaside businesses to batten the hatches during the tourist season, though some towns were already empty of tourists. And the trees in the storm’s path may be more likely to fall at this time of year because their branches are heavy with leaves and the soil is looser, and that in turn could knock down power lines.

Maine declared a state of emergency on Thursday, and President Biden authorized a federal emergency declaration. The governor, Janet Mills, warned residents that the high winds “likely will cause storm surge, inland flooding, infrastructure damage and power outages.”

Massachusetts also declared a state of emergency on Friday. There and elsewhere along the coast of New England, the most visible signs of preparation were the various boats being hauled up from the water. The storm passed east of Cape Cod, which was under a coastal flood warning, on Saturday morning, bringing strong winds and rain.

In Lubec, a town in Maine that is near the Canadian border and contains the easternmost point in the continental United States, people prepared by cleaning up their properties, taking down their umbrellas and moving their boats — some were pulled ashore and others were sailed to safer harbors.

Residents there were used to bad weather, usually in the form of cold and windy winters, said Victor Trafford, the owner of the Inn on the Wharf, which looks out over Johnson Bay. Lee, he said, did not appear to be much of a threat.

“We’re high enough above the ocean,” Mr. Trafford, 66, said. “I expect to be OK.” Still, he added, it appeared that the forecasts had made a small dent in terms of tourism: A few rooms at the inn were empty as of Friday afternoon.

Parts of New England felt Lee’s effects on Friday as the storm passed to the east. And Bermuda saw tropical storm conditions as Lee passed to the west of the island territory on Friday morning.

Because the storm is so large, even people far from its center could see rain, winds and flooding. On Saturday morning, millions of people were under tropical storm warnings.

John Yoon, Jenna Russell, Alicia Anstead and Meagan Campbell contributed reporting.

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