While Hurricane Irene has weakened as it approaches the New England coast, it is still a strong, potentially dangerous storm that commands respect. Gov. Lincoln Chafee thanked residents for their preparation so far and urged them to continue to prepare for the worst as the storm draws near.
"In the event the storm gathers strength, it's best to be prepared and not take any risks," Chafee said during a press briefing at the Emergency Management Agency in Cranston Saturday evening. "I am very, very impressed with the preparation of our citizens in advance of Hurricane Irene. We have some good news that it is weakening, but it still is a major, major, significant event."
Forecasters at the National Weather Service are predicting that Hurricane Irene will affect the region early Sunday morning rather than Sunday evening. Effects from the storm will begin being felt later this evening.
While the storm has lost some of its strength after making landfall in North Carolina this morning, it is still expected to hit the region as a strong tropical storm with sustained winds higher than 50 mph and gusts reaching hurricane strength. Potentially damaging winds are expected throughout the region, possibly resulting in widespread tree damage and power outages. Between 4 and 7 inches of rain are forecast to fall over most of Rhode Island.
The storm surge Irene is carrying remains the gravest threat. Chafee evoked memories of the hurricanes of 1938 and 1954, which carried storm surges that swamped downtown Providence and other low-lying areas. Chafee said he toured the hurricane barriers in Providence earlier Saturday, deeming them in perfect working order. He expects they will be closed sometime overnight, once tide levels reach 5.5 feet. Evacuation orders remain in effect in some communities.
Because of the potential danger of the storm surge, Chafee urged residents to stay away from the coast, despite the spectacle of crashing waves. "Everyone wants to get down there and see the waves, but there could be that one rogue wave that comes along and it can be very, very dangerous," Chafee said. "Please be careful."
Stick with Patch for continuing coverage throughout the storm.