Hurricane Irene may be the worst storm ever to hit New Jersey -- even worse than Hurricane Floyd in 1999, experts are now saying -- and Gov. Chris Christie has already declared a state of emergency.
If the current forecast track holds, we may be talking about the most devastating to hit the state on record, David Robinson, a climatologist at Rutgers University, told the Star-Ledger. I don't want to invoke panic, but anyone who doesn't treat this with the utmost respect could put themselves in danger.
Irene is expected to make landfall in New Jersey on Sunday morning as a Category 2 hurricane, with sustained winds between 96 and 110 miles per hour, according to the most recent forecasts. According to Bill Read, the director of the National Hurricane Center, the minimum amount of rain New Jersey will see from Irene is 5-10 inches, which will be all the more damaging because the state has already had a lot of rainfall in the past couple weeks, and the ground is saturated in many places.
Gov. Christie's state of emergency declaration, which he made Thursday, means the National Guard can be sent to help hard-hit towns. He is also considering ordering a mandatory evacuation of the state's coastal areas. Anyone who lives on a barrier island or along the Jersey Shore, which stretches about 125 miles from Sandy Hook to Cape May, should prepare to leave at a moment's notice, the Star-Ledger reported. They should also leave as early as they can, because the causeways that link the barrier islands to the mainland can be gridlocked even on normal summer weekends.
The New Jersey Office of Emergency Management is directing residents to their Web site, which provides information on how to prepare for a hurricane. It emphasizes that even comparatively weak hurricanes can cause extensive damage if they come near the mainland. For instance, Hurricane Floyd in 1999 was downgraded to a tropical storm by the time it reached New Jersey, and it did not make landfall, but the state still got 14 inches of rain, and six residents died.