(Editor's note: This article was updated on Friday at 12:50 p.m. with additional information from Melrose City Hall.)
While it's still too early to predict how intense the wind might be, the forecast seems fairly certain of one fact: Hurricane Irene is headed to New England and—at the very least—bringing a lot of rain with it.
The current National Weather Service (NWS) forecast for Melrose calls for rain to start on Saturday afternoon and become heavy on Saturday night. On Sunday, tropical storm conditions are possible and by Sunday night, hurricane conditions are possible.
As of Wednesday night, Irene was a Category 3 hurricane—meaning it has sustained winds of 111-130 miles per hour—and predicted to make landfall in the Carolinas on Saturday. According to the National Hurricane Center, there is a 30 percent probability that Irene will still be classified as a hurricane on Sunday, when it's predicted to reach New England.
Melrose DPW out in force before storm
The will have someone answering the phones tomorrow and on Sunday for any hurricane-related emergencies, Mayor Rob Dolan said on Friday. The City Yard can be reached at 781-665-0142.
"We’re manning almost as if it’s a snow emergency," Dolan said. "There's something for everyone to do between now and Sunday night."
Ell Pond is being lowered the maximum amount of a foot-and-a-half by opening the hydraulic gate installed three years ago, Dolan said.
Lowering the level of the pond, which drains approximately 1,1000 acres in Melrose, Stoneham and Wakefield, mitigates flooding on the Lynn Fells Parkway, Tremont Street and at the nearby Melrose Towers Condominiums. Dolan said that Towers residents are being asked, as of Saturday, to move their cars to the high school parking lot.
Melrose DPW crews are also out on Friday and Saturday preparing the city for the storm, the mayor said. Among the tasks the DPW is undertaking:
- The tree crew is trimming and taking down trees and branches that are older or diseased and could be potentially dangerous during the storm.
- DPW crews are clearing drains and culverts at three particular areas known for flooding: the Roosevelt School, the Washington Street culvert from Spot Pond, and Bay State Road.
- Crews are generally clearing catch basins in the city all day Friday and Saturday.
In case buildings need to be evacuated—which last happened in Melrose in March 2010—the city has reserved accomodations at a hotel, Dolan said.
Mayor's Aide Brigid Alverson also reminded residents that they should test their sump pumps before they are needed. The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency provides additional and Melrose Patch has compiled
Meteorologists: Take Irene seriously
New England hasn't had a hurricane landfall in 20 years and meteorologists at the National Weather Service (NWS) are telling people to take Hurricane Irene seriously.
"It's not something to be ignored," meteorologist Benjamin Sipprell said Friday morning, urging residents to be prepared for whatever the storm brings. The service has issued a Hurricane Watch for the Boston metro area.
New Englanders would be wise to stock up on water, battery-operated radios, lanterns and food, he said. Be prepared for sustained and widespread power outages as trees that have not faced this kind of weather in decades might buckle to the winds, knocking out power lines.
"The area is not really heavily affected by hurricanes on a regular basis. The overwhelming fear is that a lot of the dense trees we have around New England are not really going to be accustomed to such an infrequent event," Sipprell said.
Although Irene's intensity is still somewhat in question, the current forecast for Boston calls for rain to start Saturday afternoon and become heavy Saturday night. On Sunday, tropical storm conditions are possible and hurricane conditions are possible by Sunday evening.
"Strong impacts will start to move in Sunday morning. The bulk of activity will be Sunday afternoon into Sunday night," Sipprell said. For the Boston area, the main threats look to be strong winds, storm surges and shore erosion.
The counterclockwise rotation of the storm as it comes up through Long Island, N.Y., could wrap around the coast and work like a right hook into Boston's harbor, bringing storm surges of 1-3 feet. The storm will likely combine with what Sipprell called "an astronomical high tide" late Sunday night to inundate coastal areas in and around Boston, bringing a couple of feet of water onshore. The harbor itself, however, is fairly well shored up for such events.
An area of low pressure coming out of the Great Lakes region could intensify rains over New England "almost like how you squeeze a sponge," Sipprell said, dropping 5-10 inches of rain across western and central portions of the region.
"It really depends on where Irene tracks," he said. Current estimations are that it will head over Long Island and make landfall in southern and central New England as a Category 1 hurricane, spinning over Worcester and into eastern New Hampshire. But, Sipprell said, "it can weaken or it can strengthen."
Keep abreast of the latest forecast for Boston and eastern Massachusetts on the NWS's website.