As Hurricane Lee churned closer to coastal New England on Friday, with winds expected to intensify by nightfall, cruise ships sought refuge in Portland, Maine, and homeowners in Provincetown, Mass., piled sandbags.
An arborist in Halifax, Nova Scotia, fielded dozens of calls from residents expecting tree damage. And in Sandwich, the oldest town on Cape Cod, John Crobar, a fisherman working at the marina, hoped out loud that he would be able to track down his 150 lobster traps after the storm passed.
Yet, like others in a region accustomed to powerful nor’easters, if not hurricanes, Mr. Crobar was not particularly fazed by what was coming.
“We like to sensationalize the weather, but it’s just a natural part of the earth,” he said.
The immense storm, tracked offshore for more than a week as it slowly slogged northward through the Atlantic, prompted tropical storm warnings for millions of people as it swept closer to Cape Cod over the last few days. The storm was expected to make landfall in the Canadian province of New Brunswick late on Saturday, but forecasters said its sprawling size meant that severe effects would be felt in New England, too.
In remote Lubec, Maine, 350 miles northeast of Boston, Carol Dennison, the chairwoman of the town’s Select Board, stressed the proximity to the border as she supervised storm preparations for the town of 1,300 on Friday morning. Her point was that even if the storm made landfall in New Brunswick, Lubec would still feel it acutely.
“Canada is 200 feet away — I’m looking at Canada,” she said. “We’re monitoring and hunkering down, and like all small towns, we’ll stick together.”
At 11 a.m. Eastern time on Friday, Lee was about 400 miles southeast of Nantucket with maximum sustained winds of 80 miles an hour, making it a Category 1 hurricane. The storm had accelerated slightly, but was expected to weaken a bit on Saturday, the National Hurricane Center said; even so, it would remain “a large and dangerous storm when it reaches eastern New England and Atlantic Canada.”
On outer Cape Cod, wind gusts as strong as 60 or 70 miles an hour were possible.
Gov. Janet Mills of Maine declared a state of emergency on Thursday, saying that flooding and widespread damage were expected, and President Biden authorized a federal emergency declaration.
Perhaps the most visible signs of preparations up and down the New England coast as the storm approached were the boats, big and small, commercial and pleasure, gleaming and scuffed, being hauled out of the water. In Castine, a town of about 800 people midway up Maine’s meandering coastline, Kenny Eaton, owner of Eaton’s Boat Yard, said he had pulled more than 15 boats from the harbor on Thursday.
“A lot of it’s just in case,” said Mr. Eaton, 78. “I know one thing though — I’ve never seen so many boats on trailers going out of town.”
Bill Anthony, a tour guide in Castine who normally chauffeurs visitors around the community on his red golf cart, which he refers to as Scarlett, expected a slow day on Friday. “If there are any tourists left in town, they’re heading out as I speak,” he said.
Ferry service from Cape Cod to Nantucket, 30 miles offshore, was set to be suspended early Saturday, while in Provincetown, at the outermost tip of Cape Cod, town officials canceled all Saturday flights to and from the municipal airport. Other towns on the Cape and on Boston’s South Shore issued warnings about dangerous surf and rip currents and urged residents to stay off flooded roads, tie down kayaks and paddleboards, and remove dinghies and other small boats from the water.
Alex Morse, the town manager in Provincetown, said that 500 sandbags had been distributed to residents on Thursday to help shore up structures and sea walls. In one lucky break, he said, the storm’s peak winds, forecast to arrive early Saturday morning, would not coincide with high tide, somewhat diminishing the likelihood of flooding.
In Sandwich, near one of the bridges that link Cape Cod to the mainland, patches of blue sky still peeked through gray clouds on Friday afternoon. But trees were already whipping in strong winds, and white-capped waves crashed over a rock jetty at the mouth of the Cape Cod Canal.
The storm was bearing down on a region that has been hard hit by extreme weather this summer. Leominster, a small city 50 miles west of Boston, was hit with devastating flash floods on Monday after nearly 10 inches of rain fell there in a six-hour span. That same day, firefighters in Providence, R.I., rescued 25 people when flash floods inundated a shopping center. Flooding in July damaged thousands of homes and hundreds of businesses in Vermont.
Recent heavy rainfall across much of the region increases the risk that trees will fall in the hurricane’s high winds, and cause power outages. Jon Breed, a spokesman for Central Maine Power, said the soil erosion caused by record rainfall means that many trees are less securely rooted in the ground than they were.
“This tree issue is the X factor, and trees that would normally be fine in 40-mile-per-hour winds, we could see those adversely affected across the state,” Mr. Breed said.
At Acadia National Park in Bar Harbor, Maine, some sections of the scenic oceanfront Park Loop Road were closed to vehicles on Friday afternoon to protect visitors from the dangers of crashing surf. In Portland, Maine’s largest city, cruise ships seeking refuge from the hurricane filled all available berth space in the city’s cruise terminals, a spokeswoman said.
Some residents of Halifax, the provincial capital of Nova Scotia, were preemptively scrambling to line up help in dealing with any damage the storm would cause. Liam Gamble, an arborist and owner of a tree maintenance company, said on Thursday that he had already received about 30 calls from residents seeking his help after the hurricane passes. He said he expected to spend the days ahead “soaked to the bone.”
Still, hopes of salvaging the weekend persisted in some places, especially where visitors and seasonal homeowners tend to stay well into September. In Provincetown, where the sun was forecast to return well before the workweek did, Mr. Morse said many tourists had not fled.
“They’re hoping for a beach day on Sunday,” he said.
Reporting was contributed by Sydney Cromwell in Waterville, Maine, and Meagan Campbell in Halifax, Nova Scotia.