As of Wednesday evening, Hurricane Irene was hammering the Bahamas and drawing a bead on the East End of Long Island. That morning, East Hampton Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson said he had already met with police, the marine patrol, and the Human Services Department and had fired up the town’s emergency operations center. The supervisor said his office was tracking the storm’s progress closely.
If estimates of Irene’s strength and direction hold up, the biggest danger will be on Sunday morning when the height of the storm coincides with one of the highest tides of the month.
Thursday afternoon, Brian Ciemnecki of the National Weather Service in Upton put the storm track “somewhere between the eastern half of Long Island or just east of Montauk. It’s looking relatively strong, with winds somewhere around hurricane force, 74 miles per hour sustained. We’re looking at a lot of rainfall.” One weather service prediction put wind speeds closer to 100 miles per hour.
The meteorologist said Irene would probably arrive late Saturday going into Sunday — “all day Sunday, improving late Sunday into Monday. We expect the worst of it Saturday night into Sunday.”
At Montauk Harbor, Sunday’s high tides are due to arrive at 8:45 a.m. and 9:05 p.m.
Mr. Ciemnecki said he did not expect that a cold front, predicted to pass west to east today, would have much effect on the storm’s track. He cautioned that a “cone of uncertainty” existed for the exact track of the storm almost five days out.
Nonetheless, marinas were hauling boats one after the other yesterday in Montauk. A spokeswoman for Montauk’s Viking Fleet of party boats said the decision as to whether the boats would ride the storm out at sea had not been made.
Twenty years ago almost to the day, Aug. 19, 1991, Hurricane Bob roared past Montauk Point after delivering an estimated $4.5 million worth of damage to marinas and boats in East Hampton and Sag Harbor. Twenty-eight boats ranging from 15 to 90 feet washed ashore. Eleven thousand Long Island Lighting Company customers were without power in East Hampton Town, 36,000 in Southampton Town.
The utility estimated that 389,000 customers lost power on Long Island because of winds that reached just under 90 miles per hour in Montauk. LILCO added crews from power companies as far away as Maryland to help lift fallen trees and otherwise repair downed lines. Nearly seven inches of rain fell.
Winds had begun in earnest as Bob’s eye passed near Block Island. There was a moment in the early afternoon when the ghost of the 1938 Hurricane rattled. Winds out of the south and east pushed water into Block Island Sound and Gardiner’s Bay. The huge surge of water changed direction when the wind switched north and submerged the rock jetties at Montauk Harbor.
Fishermen putting extra lines on their boats at the town dock near Gosman’s restaurant shouted to others to save themselves as the dock’s planking began coming up. It was clear to all in Montauk Harbor that if the storm surge had coincided with high tide, things would have been much worse. As it was, the fuel dock at the Montauk Marine Basin was underwater.
Sag Harbor took a beating. The 68-foot Alden schooner Lelanta dragged anchor and came ashore, as did a number of boats in Three Mile Harbor. On Montauk’s Fort Pond Bay, the water rose 150 feet past the dune line, and waves knocked the gazebo off the end of the Rough Riders Landing dock. Ocean beaches and bluffs suffered severe erosion. On the North Fork, an inlet was cut through Orient Beach.
Over 10,000 people sought public shelter in churches, schools, and other buildings from Montauk to Sag Harbor. Residents were asked to leave low-lying areas, including Napeague and Lazy Point in Amagansett, Gerard Drive in Springs, and Sammy’s Beach in East Hampton.
6:48 a.m. Thursday: Updated forecasts of Irene's path have shifted to the west, however eastern Long Island remains in a potential warning zone. Predictions and maps can be found at nhc.noaa.gov.