New York City will shut down all public transportation starting at noon on Saturday in advance of Hurricane Irene, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority confirmed to IBTimes.

These measures will affect all subways and buses, as well as MetroNorth and Long Island Rail Road commuter trains, according to a statement sent to IBTimes by MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz. Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Jay Walder, the chairman of the MTA, have been in contact and decided earlier on Friday to order the shutdown.

All transportation will run normally on Friday and through Saturday morning in order to allow people who live in areas threatened by the storm surge to evacuate as easily as possible. The MTA will suspend its normal policy and allow people to take their pets on public transportation if they are evacuating. Officials warned residents in evacuation zones not to wait until the last minute to leave. 

The system will then begin to shut down at noon on Saturday. Ortiz said it was impossible to say how long service would be affected. Efforts to reinstate it will begin as soon as the storm ends, but it's all really predicated on what we discover with regards to flooding and the weather-related conditions, he told IBTimes. We really wouldn't be able to put an exact time frame.

The MTA's Hurricane Plan is designed to help people get to safety prior to the storm and then to protect employees and equipment before dangerous sustained winds of more than 39 mph reach the area, the statement from Ortiz said. This is a lengthy process that must begin hours in advance, with all MTA subway, bus and rail service beginning final runs approximately 8 hours before -- and bus service 6 hours before -- dangerous conditions materialize.

Hurricane Irene is not expected to hit the New York area until Sunday, with some initial effects possibly coming Saturday evening, but the MTA is shutting down the system preemptively to ensure themselves enough time to prepare for the storm.

Once the storm is over, the statement said, the MTA will see how much damage there is and work to restore service as soon as possible. It warned, however, that even with minimal damage, this is expected to be a lengthy process that will impact service on Monday. This could make for a very difficult commute, especially for people coming into the city from the surrounding suburbs.

The MTA said that it was working with law enforcement across the region to protect infrastructure during a system-wide shutdown. High winds, flooding and downed trees or wires all have the potential to damage subway and commuter train tracks in ways that would cripple the transit system long after the storm passes -- salt water from a storm surge could corrode the tracks, for example -- and officials are hoping to avoid that.

Bridges and tunnels will also be shut down on a case-by-case basis depending on how high the winds are. Such closures will probably not be necessary until Saturday evening at the earliest, according to the MTA.

This is only the third full shutdown of the MTA system in New York City history. The first was after Sept. 11, 2001, and the second was during the transit strike in 2005.