National parks along the Eastern Seaboard from the Outer Banks of North Carolina to coastal Maine were preparing Saturday to withstand the brunt of Hurricane Sandy, a slowly evolving storm that meteorologists were predicting would be historic for its devastating impact.
A Category 1 system with current maximum sustained winds of about 75 mph, the hurricane was continuing Saturday on a north-northeasterly course. It was projected to be abreast of North Carolina's Outer Banks and Capes Hatteras and Lookout national seashores early Monday, and come ashore somewhere near southern New Jersey late Monday evening.
According to National Park Service meteorologist Denver Ingram, winds should still be in the 65 mph to 75 mph range when the hurricane moves inland. The storm will bring seas of around 25 feet, rip currents, and coastal flooding of three to five feet on top of an already above average high tide due to Monday’s full moon. The storm’s tropical storm force wind field, said the meteorologist, was already of “unprecedented” size, extending about 450 miles from its center.
As of 11 a.m. EDT Saturday tropical storm warnings were in effect for an area from South Santee River in South Carolina to Duck in North Carolina, for Pamlico and Albemarle Sounds, and for Great Abaco and Grand Bahama Islands.
Watches were in effect for the coastal area from the Savannah River to the South Santee River and for Bermuda.
Since the hurricane was expected to evolve into a “cold core” storm, the National Hurricane Center probably would not be posting watches and warnings along the mid-Atlantic/Northeast coastline, the Park Service said. Instead, the National Weather Service was expected to post high wind watches and warnings. Those were likely to cover a very large area – as far west as Greensboro, North Carolina, Roanoke, Virginia, Charleston West Virgina, Erie Pennsylvania, and Buffalo, New York. They were also expected to encompass most of Vermont and New Hampshire and extend into southern Maine.
The storm was expected to bring from 7 to 12 inches of rain to the coastline when it comes ashore. These amounts could extend into northeastern Pennsylvania and southern New York. Areas elsewhere will likely see 3 to 5 inches of rain.
The following park status reports released by the National Park Service were based on regional phone calls conducted on Friday and Saturday and on email updates. Every park in the hurricane’s path, even those well inland due to the projected wind field, was making preparations for downed trees, flooding, power outages and related problems. Rather than list all of them, the following focuses on parks that the hurricane has already passed by or that may have particular problems:
Everglades and Dry Tortugas in Florida – Everglades received some rain and tropical storm force gusts Friday, but neither park suffered any damage.
Canaveral National Seashore in Florida – The park experienced strong winds and some rain, but was undamaged and remained open. There was some concern about turtle nests; impacts have yet to be determined.
Cape Lookout National Seashore in North Carolina – The weather Saturday morning was reported to be deteriorating and strong tides were pushing water into the sound. Two of the three ferries to the offshore islands have shutdown, but the third was continuing to move people off them Saturday morning with a target of completing operations by 1 p.m. Some visitors declined to leave. Overwash was already occurring on some of the islands. Access to the headquarters administrative area could be an issue due to flooding. There may also be problems reaching the park due to potential issues with some of the bridges on access roads.
Cape Hatteras/Outer Banks Group in North Carolina -- The park’s Type III team has been activated. The county’s emergency operations center opened Saturday morning and the park would be coordinating actions with them. Expectations were that NC 12, the North Carolina highway that runs north-south through the park, would be breached. Ocracoke Campground closed at noon and was to remain closed for the season (all other NPS campgrounds closed earlier in September and October). All NPS visitor centers, including Ocracoke Visitor Center, Hatteras Island, Bodie Island and Wright Brothers and Fort Raleigh Visitor Centers, will remain open until close of business Saturday and would remain closed until further notice. Park beaches would be closed to off-road vehicles by 5 p.m. Saturday and will remain closed until further notice.
Colonial National Historical Park in Virginia – The Historic Jamestowne and Yorktown Battlefield units of the park, including all tour roads, will be closed on Sunday and Monday. They will reopen once storm damage assessments and cleanup have been completed. The Historic Triangle shuttle and Jamestown Area shuttle will not operate on either Sunday or Monday. Colonial Parkway will remain open, but downed trees may ultimately make the scenic byway impassable.
Moores Creek National Battlefield in North Carolina – The park will close on Sunday.
Fort Monroe National Monument in Virginia – The park was working with the Army on preparations. The RV park and museum have been closed and the site will close entirely some time today.
Assateague Island National Seashore in Virginia and Maryland -- The park has gone into full Incident Command System mode. The state park will be following the NPS lead regarding closures. Oceanside campground closed Friday morning; Bayside campground closed Saturday morning. The backcountry, Shell Road to the north end, and the off road area were to close Saturday evening (the first day of hunting season, so the park has given hunters a little longer). Non-emergency employees will be released for Sunday and Monday. The visitor centers in Virginia and Maryland will close on Sunday. The island on the Maryland side will be closed at noon on Sunday.
Gateway National Recreation Area in New York and New Jersey -- Along with standard hurricane preparations, the park was moving sand to help protect parking lots in the Sandy Hook Unit.
Statue of Liberty – The park was hosting a large media event Saturday prior to Sunday’s reopening of the statue, so closure was to take place on Monday.
Delaware Water Gap/Upper Delaware National Recreation Area and Scenic and Recreational River – Both parks are on the Delaware River and were expecting a high water event. The reservoirs that also release water into the river have sufficient space to absorb the predicted heavy rains.
Cape Cod National Seashore in Massachusetts -– Along with standard preparations, the park was photographing areas that have been damaged by similar events in the past in order to be able to make comparisons after the storm has passed.
Salem Maritime National Historic Site in Massachusetts -- The NPS-owned Friendship has been battened down. Salem is hosting a big Halloween-related event over the weekend, with rangers from adjacent parks assisting with control of a huge anticipated crowd.
Acadia National Park in Maine -- A Type III team has been activated. Although the storm is expected to track well to the west of the park, the normal 11-foot tide will be higher due to waves and surge. Visitor safety is therefore a concern and will be a prime focus.
Emergency preparedness staff in the three affected regional offices – Southeast, National Capital, and Northeast – will be working through the weekend. Three NPS Type II incident management teams – East, Intermountain and Midwest – are fully staffed and on standby for use as needed.