Storm Lee made landfall late Saturday afternoon (Sept. 16) in Nova Scotia, Canada, at near-hurricane strength, but not before it brought high winds, rough surf and torrential rains to a large swath of New England and Maritime Canada, toppling trees, swamping coastlines, cutting power to tens of thousands and claiming one life.
With sustained winds of 70 mph (110 kph), the center of the post-tropical cyclone came ashore about 135 miles (215 kilometers) west of Halifax, the capital of Nova Scotia, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center. That’s about 50 miles (80 kilometers) southeast of Eastport, Maine, U.S. weather officials said.
The storm was expected to weaken as it moves into New Brunswick and the Gulf of St. Lawrence, forecasters said.
In the United States, a tropical storm warning was in effect for a 230-mile (370-kilometer) stretch from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, to the eastern end of Maine. That included Bar Harbor, the touristy gateway to Acadia National Park, where a whale watch vessel broke free of its mooring and crashed ashore in front of the College of the Atlantic.
Authorities said the Maine Department and Environmental Protection and the Coast Guard were working to offload 1,800 gallons of diesel fuel to prevent it from spilling into the ocean.
Lee flooded coastal roads and boats in Nova Scotia, knocked down power lines and trees, and took ferries out of service as it fanned anxiety in a region still reeling from wildfires and severe flooding this summer. Nova Scotia’s largest airport, Halifax Stanfield International, had no incoming or outgoing flights scheduled Saturday.
“People are exhausted. … It’s so much in such a small time period,” said Pam Lovelace, a councilor in Halifax, the capital. “From a mental health perspective, we’re asking people to check in on their neighbors.”
A tropical storm warning was in effect for much of New Brunswick and all of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, along with a hurricane watch for parts of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.
Hurricane-force winds extended as far as 140 miles (220 kilometers) from Lee’s center, with tropical-storm-force winds extending as far as 390 miles (630 kilometers) — enough to cover all of Maine and much of Maritime Canada.
The storm was so big that it caused power outages several hundred miles from its center. At midday Saturday, 11% of electricity customers in Maine lacked power, along with 27% of Nova Scotia, 8% of New Brunswick and 3% of Prince Edward Island.
Storm surge of 1 to 3 feet was predicted for the Maine coast, and the U.S. hurricane center warned it would be accompanied by large and destructive waves. The storm could drop as much as 4 inches of rain on parts of Maine, Massachusetts, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick through Saturday night, with the potential for local flooding, forecasters said.
A 51-year-old motorist in Searsport, Maine, died after a large tree limb fell on his vehicle Saturday on U.S. Highway 1 during a period of high winds, the first fatality attributed to the storm.
The tree limb brought down live power lines, and utility workers had to cut power before the man could be removed, said Police Chief Brian Lunt. The man died later at a hospital, Lunt said. The man’s identity hasn’t been released.
The storm skirted some of the most waterlogged areas of Massachusetts that experienced severe flash flooding days earlier, when fast water washed out roads, caused sinkholes, damaged homes and flooded vehicles.
“At this point, the storm is resembling a nor’easter,” said Sarah Thunberg, a National Weather Service meteorologist, referring to the fall and winter storms that often plague the region and are so named because their winds blow from the northeast. They typically have a much wider wind field than tropical systems, whose winds stay closer to a storm’s center.
But the entire region has experienced an especially wet summer — it ranked second in the number of rainy days in Portland, Maine — and Lee’s high winds toppled trees stressed by the rain-soaked ground in Maine, the nation’s most heavily wooded state.
Cruise ships found refuge at berths in Portland, while lobstermen in Bar Harbor and elsewhere pulled traps from the water and hauled boats inland.
Billy Bob Faulkingham, House Republican leader of the Maine Legislature, and another lobsterman survived after their boat overturned while hauling traps ahead of the storm Friday, officials said.
The boat’s emergency locator beacon alerted authorities, and the two clung to the hull until help arrived, said Winter Harbor Police Chief Danny Mitchell. The 42-foot boat sank.
“They’re very lucky to be alive,” he said.
Lee lashed the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Bahamas and Bermuda before turning northward, and heavy swells were causing life-threatening surf and rip currents in the U.S. and Canada, according to the hurricane center.
Forecasters urged residents to stay home: “Nothing good can come from checking out the big waves and how strong the wind truly is,” said Kyle Leavitt, director of the New Brunswick Emergency Management Organization.
But many ventured out anyway. Betsy Follansbee and her husband, Fred, jogged to Higgins Beach in Scarborough, Maine, to watch surfers — some wearing helmets — paddling out to catch waves reaching 12 feet (3.6 meters) or more. They were the biggest waves Follansbee has seen in her 10 years living there, she said.
“We’re impressed that that they’re bold enough to try,” Follansbee said.
On Maine’s Bailey Island, a slender spit jutting into the Gulf of Maine, Ren Renton watched the ocean roil.
“The ocean is always dynamic no matter what storm you get,” she said. “It comes and goes and takes what it wants, but hopefully not too much.”
Lee shares some characteristics with 2012’s Superstorm Sandy. Both were once strong hurricanes that became post-tropical cyclones — cyclonic storms that have lost most of their tropical characteristics — before landfall. But Lee was not expected to be nearly as destructive as Sandy, which caused billions of dollars in damage and was blamed for dozens of deaths in New York and New Jersey.
Lee also isn’t anywhere near as severe as the remnants of Hurricane Fiona, which a year ago washed houses into the ocean, knocked out power to most of two provinces and swept a woman into the sea, said Canadian meteorologist Jill Maepea.
Destructive hurricanes are relatively rare so far north. The Great New England Hurricane of 1938 brought gusts as high as 186 mph (300 kph) and sustained winds of 121 mph (195 kph) at Massachusetts’ Blue Hill Observatory. But there have been no storms that powerful in recent years.
Sharp reported from Portland, Maine. Contributing to this report were Associated Press journalists Robert Bumsted in Cape Elizabeth, Maine; Patrick Whittle in Portland, Maine; Michael Casey in Boston; Rob Gillies in Toronto; and Kathy McCormack in Concord, New Hampshire.
This story has been corrected to show that the Republican leader of the Maine Legislature is known as Billy Bob Faulkingham, not Bill Bob.
Robert F. Bukaty And David Sharp, The Associated Press