New Englanders brace for possibility of hurricane

By Derek J. Anderson
Globe Correspondent / August 24, 2011

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There is a storm of uncertainty in New England as Hurricane Irene barrels toward the Bahamas and moves closer to the US coast.

“Currently, Hurricane Irene has sustained winds at 90 miles per hour and is a Category 1 storm,’’ Benjamin Sipprell, forecast officer for the National Weather Service in Taunton, said yesterday. “The anticipation is that the storm itself will move toward the Bahamas and then toward the North Carolina coastline.’’

After Irene approaches the Carolinas, however, forecasters are unsure of the hurricane’s track, according to Sipprell.

“It will be off the shore of the Carolinas on Saturday; it could go on shore, it could go out - we’ll just have to wait and see,’’ he said.

The waters along the South Shore in Massachusetts are expected to rise as early as Friday, Sipprell said. With the seas building, high surf and dangerous rip currents are to be expected, he said.

“People should definitely be aware of what might be in store for this weekend,’’ he said. “Anyone with boats and property need to secure their boats or get them out of the water. We’re just trying to suggest what people should be doing.’’

The storm is forecast to hit New England with gusty winds and heavy rains Sunday, Sipprell said, but all the predictions are subject to change.

According to Dennis Feltgen of the National Hurricane Center in Miami, the storm is supposed to stay well to the east of Florida. “It’s becoming more and more apparent that the storm will affect the Northeast, but to what degree is unapparent as of now,’’ said Feltgen.

A big part of the uncertainty for New Englanders is the strength of the storm, if and when it hits.

“The greater probability they have out is that [Irene] will remain a Category 1 hurricane when it hits the Carolinas,’’ said Sipprell. “It may make landfall, we just don’t know.’’

He said the weather service could not make a call yet on what category the storm would be if it arrives in the Northeast.

Sipprell stressed that residents need to be prepared for anything that may be coming.

“This shouldn’t be looked at lightly,’’ he said. “It’s best to be prepared at this point and keep watching the forecasts.’’

Derek Anderson can be reached at