Hurricane Pours Over East Coast; More To Come

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Overnight, Hurricane Irene pounded the East Coast from North Carolina to New Jersey. The National Hurricane Center reports there will still be heavy winds and rain for the remainder of the day, although the storm is weakening. As many as 3 million people are without power. Guest host John Ydstie and NPR's Joe Palca discuss the causes and aftereffects of Hurricane Irene.


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm John Ydstie.

Hurricane Irene dropped down to a tropical storm as it crossed over New York this morning, but not before dumping buckets of rain and causing widespread flooding. While the storm was not as powerful as predicted, it remains strong as it moves into New England. Homeland Security Director Janet Napolitano warned residents to stay vigilant.

YDSTIE: Even though the storm has now been downgraded, that poses no less of a threat to communities in its path. We encourage individuals to listen to their state and local authorities as we move through the response to Irene.

YDSTIE: NPR's Joe Palca has been tracking the storm and joins us here in the studio. So Joe, what's the latest on Irene's track?

JOE PALCA: Well, it's been staying pretty much on course all morning, and it's now passed over New York, as you said. And it's heading up into New England and ultimately, it will reach the eastern edge of Canada and the western edge of Maine, probably by tomorrow morning - well, not ultimately. It keeps going after that, too.

YDSTIE: Mm-hmm. Most people think of wind, of course, when they think of damage from hurricanes. But wind is only part of the story, and particularly with this hurricane.

PALCA: Well, yeah. There was a lot of moisture associated with this hurricane, so there was a lot of rain. Some places got 20 inches of rain, apparently, 15 inches. Just a ton of rain falling on ground that's saturated. There was a lot of flash flooding, and there's also the possibility of storm surge, where - that's also from the wind, though - where it pushes water into an inlet or into a bay, and can add to natural tides that are occurring. And there were some tornado watches posted for - ahead of the storm. I don't believe any of them were actually spotted.

YDSTIE: Mm-hmm. As you mentioned, the rain is falling on saturated areas so there's still the threat, going into tonight and tomorrow, of rivers overflowing, even when the sun comes out.

PALCA: That's right. The rivers tend to lag behind the coastal areas for showing flooding. In fact, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett says that the rivers may not crest until Tuesday or Wednesday. And he reminded people that this is not just a 24-hour event.

YDSTIE: Now, Irene has been downgraded to a tropical storm. Does the wind still pose a threat?

PALCA: Well, yes. I mean, first of all, the winds have been way out in front of this, and so you can see all the way - as much as 300 or 350 miles ahead of the center of the storm - you can see quite a bit of wind blowing. And of course that's still knocking down trees and toppling power lines, in some cases. The other thing that happens when a storm like this gets into a city, is that the wind at the surface - so at the ground floor - is actually less than the wind as you head up the building, so that if you get up to the 80th floor, let's say, in one of these skyscrapers in New York or Boston, which is still feeling the effects of the storm fairly severely, you can have windows blown out, and you can have wind blowing 20 or 30 percent faster. So it's still a big problem. And then, you know, you've got the delight of blowing glass swirling around in 65-mile-an-hour winds - can be a little dangerous.

YDSTIE: Not as dangerous as expected, but still dangerous.

PALCA: Absolutely.

YDSTIE: NPR's Joe Palca. Thanks very much.

PALCA: You're welcome.

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