Hermine gets deadly, batters coast as NJ flooding threat looms
Storm system Hermine spun away from the U.S. East Coast on Sunday, removing the threat of heavy rain but maintaining enough power to keep beaches at risk for dangerous waves and currents — and off-limits to disappointed swimmers and surfers during the holiday weekend.
The National Weather Service said a tropical storm warning remains in effect for Rehoboth Beach in Delaware, which could experience wind gusts of up to 50 mph and life-threatening storm surges during high tide late Sunday and into Monday.
Virginia Beach also remained under a tropical storm warning Sunday, with the weather service describing conditions as "breezy to windy." No significant rainfall was expected for the area, although scattered rain may occur in parts of southern New England and in the mid-Atlantic states.
In New Jersey, tropical storm-force winds could whip up on Monday, and record flooding remained a threat south of the Atlantic City area.
The National Hurricane Center maintained its tropical storm watch for Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket and said dangerous storm surges would continue along the coast from Virginia to New Jersey.
"The combination of a storm surge and the tide will cause normally dry areas near the coast to be flooded by rising waters moving inland from the shoreline," the Hurricane Center said in a morning advisory.
Hermine already caused two deaths, damaged properties and left hundreds of thousands without electricity from Florida to Virginia. It spawned a tornado in North Carolina and closed beaches as far north as New York.
"This is not a beach weekend for anyone in the Mid-Atlantic to the northeast," said Eric Blake, a hurricane specialist at the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
Hermine rose up over the Gulf of Mexico and hit Florida on Friday as a Category 1 hurricane before weakening to a tropical storm across Georgia.
By 8 a.m. Sunday, Hermine's top sustained winds remained at 65 mph (100 kph) as it moved east-northeast at 12 mph (19 kph). The storm, expected to turn northward later Sunday, was centered about 295 miles southeast of Ocean City, Maryland.
Forecasters say Hermine could regain hurricane force later Sunday as it travels up the coast before weakening again to a tropical storm by Tuesday.
Governors all along the coast announced emergency preparations.
And since sea levels have risen up to a foot due to global warming, the storm surges pushed by Hermine could be even more damaging, climate scientists say.
Michael Mann at Pennsylvania State University noted that this century's one-foot sea-level rise in New York City meant 25 more square miles flooded during Superstorm Sandy, causing billions more in damage.
"We are already experiencing more and more flooding due to climate change in every storm," said Michael Oppenheimer, a geosciences professor at Princeton University. "And it's only the beginning."
The winds and rain were so strong Saturday in North Carolina that all bridges to the Outer Banks were closed for several hours following a deadly accident over the intracoastal waterway.
Tyrrell County Sheriff Darryl Liverman told the Virginian-Pilot that high winds tipped over an 18-wheeler, killing its driver and shutting down the U.S. 64 bridge.
And on Hatteras Island in the Outer Banks, a small tornado spawned by Hermine knocked over two trailers and injured four people, authorities said.
Earlier in Florida, a homeless man died from a falling tree.
Hermine's timing couldn't be worse for coastal communities hoping for revenue from Labor Day events.
"This weekend would normally be a parking lot," said Jim Derrick. His family businesses include a mini golf course, sea shell store, indoor bounce house and ice cream shop in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, where the beach was closed to foot traffic and swimming was prohibited Saturday.
He called the weekend "definitely disappointing," although his bounce house was packed.
Elsewhere along Hermine's path, people were having decidedly less fun.
In Savannah, Georgia, Bacon Fest was canceled Friday and Saturday's Craft Brew Fest was moved indoors.
In Virginia Beach, the storm forced Bruce Springsteen to move a Saturday night concert to Monday. Swimmers were ordered out of the surf in New York and New Jersey. And Amtrak cancelled or altered some service as the storm approached.
Joyce Harper and her husband, of Berkeley Township, N.J., canceled Monday's family barbecue and took their three young daughters to the Seaside Heights boardwalk to "burn off some energy" ahead of the storm.
"If it's as bad as they expect, then we're all going to be indoors for a couple days. I love my kids, but two days is a long time to be together in close spaces," she said.
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