PORTLAND, Maine — Days of wild weather that produced torrential rain, flooding, sinkholes and a likely tornado in New England could be a prelude to something more dangerous lurking offshore — Hurricane Lee.
Maine was under its first hurricane watch in 15 years as the region prepared for 20-foot (6-meter) waves and winds gusting to 70 mph (112 kph), along with more rain, officials said. A dangerous storm surge was projected for Friday evening for Massachusetts’ Cape Cod Bay and Nantucket Island, while the brunt of the storm was to arrive early Saturday.
Although the Category 1 system did not contribute to the recent flooding, it threatened to exacerbate conditions in a region that is already much too wet.
The Coast Guard and emergency management agencies warned New England residents to be prepared, and utility companies brought in reinforcements to deal with possible power outages. At Boothbay Harbor Marina in Maine, the community came together to remove boats from the water to keep them out of harm’s way.
“It’s a batten-down-the-hatches kind of day,” owner Kim Gillies said Thursday.
Earlier in the week, the region saw 10 inches (25 centimeters) of rain over six hours. Tornado warnings were posted Wednesday for communities in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, and more heavy rain opened up sinkholes and brought devastating flooding to several areas.
The National Weather Service in Boston said radar data and videos indicated that a likely tornado damaged trees and power lines in Rhode Island and Connecticut on Wednesday. In Lincoln, Rhode Island, photos taken after the storm showed that at least one roof damaged and the press box at the high school stadium tipped into the bleachers.
At midday Thursday, Lee was spinning 245 miles (395 kilometers) southwest of Bermuda, with maximum sustained winds of 90 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center. It was traveling north on a path that could lead to landfall in Nova Scotia, Canada, possibly as a tropical storm, forecasters said.
The storm threatened to bring a mixed bag of threats. Ocean waves as tall as 20 feet could lash the coast, damaging structures and causing erosion; powerful wind gusts could knock down trees weakened by a wet summer; and rain could cause flash flooding in a region where the soil is already saturated, said Louise Fode, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Maine.
The state’s eastern coast — known as the Down East region — and the coast of Nova Scotia was expected to bear the brunt of the storm, though the track could shift before the system arrives, Fode said.
One thing working in the region’s favor: The storm surge will not be accompanied by an astronomical high tide, helping to lower the risk, she said.
New England has experienced its share of flooding this summer, including a storm that dumped up to two months of rain in two days in Vermont in July, resulting in two deaths. Scientists are finding that storms around the world are forming in a warmer atmosphere, making extreme rainfall more frequent.
Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey issued a state of emergency late Tuesday following “catastrophic flash flooding and property damage” in two counties and other communities. The torrential downpour in a six-hour period was a “200-year event,” said Matthew Belk, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Boston.
The state is monitoring the conditions of dams, the governor said, and she urged residents to stay off the roads when ordered.
The rain created several sinkholes in Leominster, Massachusetts, including one at a car dealership where several vehicles were swallowed up. In Providence, Rhode Island, downpours flooded a parking lot and parts of a shopping mall. Firefighters used inflatable boats to rescue more than two dozen people stranded in cars.
Looking ahead, the hurricane watch for Maine extended from Stonington to the Canadian border. The last time a hurricane watch was declared in Maine was in 2008, for Hurricane Kyle.
Meanwhile, a tropical storm watch was in effect from Stonington south to Watch Hill, Rhode Island. That includes Block Island, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.
In Maine, residents often boast about being accustomed to rough weather. Lee’s projected wind, rain and surf are akin to a powerful Nor’easter, and people are familiar with those.
The Portland Sea Dogs, a minor league baseball team, moved its fan appreciation day to Friday because of the weather forecast. But the club had no plans to cancel its game on Saturday despite the storm.