Isaias is bringing the threat of tornadoes as it barrels north.
Isaias pounded a large swath of the Atlantic Coast on Tuesday, unleashing heavy rains and winds as fast as 70 miles per hour as it swept through the Carolinas and into the Northeast.
Isaias, which made landfall in North Carolina as a Category 1 hurricane and quickly weakened to a tropical storm, left a trail of floods, fires and hundreds of thousands of people without electricity. Some of the storm’s most devastating effects, including the deaths of at least two people, were wrought by a series of tornadoes that it spawned across its path.
New York and New England were on alert and bracing for the worst of the storm to hit later on Tuesday, with tropical storm warnings reaching as far up the Atlantic Coast as Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts.
Gov. Philip D. Murphy of New Jersey declared a state of emergency for the entire state, and closed government offices. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York said the front end of the storm had already arrived in parts of the state.
“I urge New Yorkers to look out for local weather alerts, exercise caution and avoid unnecessary travel, especially if you are in the storm’s direct path,” he said on Twitter.
At 3 p.m. Eastern, the center of Isaias, which is written as Isaías in Spanish and pronounced ees-ah-EE-ahs, was about 60 miles west-northwest of New York City, near the village of Monticello.
Officials said that the storm’s rapid pace, moving nearly 35 m.p.h., stood to help limit river flooding and allowed the authorities to mobilize swiftly in assessing the toll.
“All in all, this storm got in, got out pretty quickly,” Gov. Roy Cooper of North Carolina said in an interview on “Good Morning America” on Tuesday. Because of that, he added, the damage was not “as great as it could have been.”
Tornadoes had landed in parts of northeastern North Carolina, southeastern Virginia and southern New Jersey. Another likely touched down near Dover, Del. Photos and videos posted to social media showed trees snapped and pieces of buildings blown on top of vehicles. Tornado threats would continue north along the coast and into New England, and the New York City region was under a tornado watch until 4 p.m.
Isaias could cause flash flooding around much of the Mid-Atlantic region, the National Hurricane Center said, with “potentially life-threatening urban flooding” possible in Washington, Baltimore and other cities along and just west of I-95. The storm had delivered only a glancing blow to Florida as it skirted the coast there, with officials expressing relief that it failed to cause the level of damage they had feared. Georgia was largely spared as well.
At least two people were killed by a tornado in North Carolina.
The authorities in Bertie County, N.C., were assessing the devastation caused by a tornado that ripped through a neighborhood overnight, killing at least two people.
Television footage showed a rural patch of mobile homes that had been eviscerated, leaving streaks of debris. One home had been reduced to splintered wood and metal, piled with kitchen appliances, furniture and laundry.
The Bertie County sheriff, John Holley, told reporters on Tuesday that the tornado touched down in the early morning hours on Tuesday, shredding the cluster of homes so intensely that only two still stood.
“The rest of them is pretty much gone,” he said in an interview with WVEC-TV, a television station based in Hampton, Va., adding that he had regularly passed the community during 38 years with the Sheriff’s Department and it was now unrecognizable. “It don’t look real,” he said. “It’s sad and it’s hard.”
The authorities said that at least 12 people had been hospitalized. Mr. Holley said that his deputies were looking for at least three people who were unaccounted for.
“Our hearts are heavy as we continue to survey damage and get the big picture about what transpired and just how many were impacted,” said Ron Wesson, the chairman of the Bertie County Board of Commissioners.
The authorities made it to the community in the northeast corner of the state before the storm had even passed, county officials said, with emergency workers contending with the wind and rain in the dark of night as they pulled people from their homes.
“We want to emphasize that this is not a recovery mission, and rescues are still taking place,” Mitch Cooper, the emergency management director for Bertie County, said on Tuesday.
Officials were also trying to take stock of the aftermath across the state. “We’ve had a number of tornadoes,” Governor Cooper, a Democrat, said on “Good Morning America.” “I’m not sure of the count yet.”
The storm is knocking out power over wide areas.
More than two million utility customers along the storm’s path in North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York were without power, according to Poweroutage.us, a website that tracks and aggregates reports from utilities.
As of 1:45 p.m. Eastern time, more than one million customers were without power in New Jersey, a number significantly higher than in any other state. In Eastern North Carolina and Virginia, 448,066 utility customers were without power, and in Pennsylvania more than 356,000 customers were affected.
Storms can disrupt power in a number of ways. Strong wind gusts can sometimes snap cables and poles directly, though utilities try to build and maintain their infrastructure to be wind-resistant. Often the culprit is a broken tree limb or debris from a building that strikes a power line, or a skidding vehicle hitting a pole. Lightning strikes can damage equipment, and so can wind-driven rain or flash floodwaters.
Downed power lines can remain dangerous even when the lights nearby seem to be out, and wet conditions add to the danger. Utility companies like Dominion Energy warn the public to stay at least 30 feet away, and not to attempt to move them.
Loss of off-site power caused one reactor at the Brunswick nuclear power plant in Southport, N.C., to automatically shut down overnight, according to a Nuclear Regulatory Commission notice. The plant’s other reactor was unaffected. The report said safety systems worked as intended and the impact of the shutdown was minimal.
New York City may get less rain but more wind.
The projected path of the storm has shifted slightly westward on Tuesday, giving New York City and the surrounding areas a slight reprieve from the heaviest expected rainfall.
But the shift has also increased the chance of severe weather in the region, including the possibility of “weak, brief” tornadoes, said Matthew Wunsch, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. A tornado watch is in effect until 4 p.m. for New York City, Long Island, much of New Jersey and parts of Connecticut.
Even with the worst rain falling to the west, the New York City area could still see some heavy bands of rainfall pass through in the morning and afternoon, Mr. Wunsch said. Winds will pick up in the afternoon, with sustained speeds of 35 to 45 m.p.h. and gusts over 60 m.p.h., he said, and coastal flooding is expected in the evening and through tomorrow.
Mr. Wunsch said the fast-moving storm was likely to inflict far less damage overall than Hurricane Sandy did in October 2012. “Sandy was such a large-scale event, and it happened over such a long period of time,” he said. “It was just a different beast altogether.”
Even so, officials in New York City were bracing for the bad weather and urging residents to be vigilant for wind, rain and power outages. Beaches were closed on Tuesday.
Gov. Phillip D. Murphy of New Jersey declared a state of emergency and asked people to stay off the roads and to secure loose furniture and other items that could be blown around by the high winds. He said “hundreds of thousands” of utility customers could lose power in the state, depending on the severity of the wind gusts and the specific track of the storm.
The southern end of the state was already being hit Tuesday morning, with a tornado reported in Strathmere in Cape May County.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York said in a statement that the state had rescue teams standing by with boats and high-water vehicles in areas that could be hardest hit by the storm. The state had also sent out water pumps, chain saws, sandbags and bottled water, he said, noting that up to six inches of rain could fall in some areas.
Homes burned and cars were swept away where the storm made landfall.
Several homes caught fire, cars were swept away in floodwater, and outdoor stairways were ripped off houses as Hurricane Isaias made landfall in Ocean Isle Beach, N.C., on Monday night.
Morgan Strenk watched from her vacation home as rising water flooded the streets outside and filled her basement with three feet of water.
“We didn’t think it was going to get to this level,” she said.
And while the water crept higher, a more urgent threat emerged: Stepping onto her porch, Ms. Strenk smelled smoke, and saw a house across the street going up in flames. The fire then spread to a neighboring house.
When a family came out of another nearby house, Ms. Strenk said she signaled with her flashlight to invite them to come shelter with her on the opposite side of the street.
One of the houses burned completely to the ground, Ms. Strenk said. Only a burned front porch and stairway remains of the other. Photos she took show a burned structure with only the stilts remaining, and a car that was swept up by the flood and dropped nose-down in a pool of water.
“The streets are just covered with debris, a lot of houses right on the shoreline lost their stairs,” she said on Tuesday. “There’s random pieces of furniture all over the place.”
In all, fire crews had to put out at least five structure fires, said Tony Casey, a spokesman for Horry County Fire Rescue, which had come from South Carolina to help the local firefighters.
Simultaneous disasters are exposing the hard reality of climate change.
Twin emergencies on two coasts this week — Hurricane Isaias and the Apple Fire, which has burned 27,000 acres in Southern California — offer a preview of life in a warming world and the steady danger of overlapping disasters.
And in both places, as well as everywhere between, a pandemic that keeps worsening.
Experts say that the pair of hazards bracketing the country this week offers a preview of life under climate change: a relentless grind of overlapping disasters, major or minor.
The coronavirus pandemic has further exposed flaws in the nation’s defenses, including weak construction standards in vulnerable areas, underfunded government agencies, and racial and income disparities that put some communities at greater risk. Experts argue that the country must fundamentally rethink how it prepares for similar disasters as the effects of global warming accelerate.
“State and local governments already stretched with Covid responses must now stretch even further,” said Lisa Anne Hamilton, adaptation program director at the Georgetown Climate Center in Washington. Better planning and preparation are crucial, she added, as the frequency and intensity of disasters increase.
In recent weeks as the coronavirus has been resurgent in many parts of the country, experts and politicians alike have implored people to protect themselves and others by always wearing a face mask in public.
Does that apply when you have to be out in the gusting wind and driving rain of a tropical storm? Our health columnist Tara Parker-Pope says, probably not: Face masks aren’t as effective when they are wet.
For one thing, it’s much harder to breathe through a wet mask than a dry one, Ms. Parker-Pope notes. And on top of that, a moist or wet mask doesn’t filter as well as a dry mask. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recommends mask-wearing in general, says they should not be worn when doing things that may get the mask wet.
It doesn’t take a tropical storm to drench a mask, of course. They can become soaked with condensation from your breath or sweat from your face, and some people think of wetting them deliberately to cool off in hot weather. But the harm done is the same, wherever the moisture comes from.
A paper surgical mask that gets soaked should probably be discarded, Ms. Parker-Pope advises, but a cloth mask can be washed, dried and re-used.
When rain is coming down in buckets, social distancing is not likely to be a problem, and any viral particles exhaled by an infected person probably would be quickly diluted by gusting wind and rain. So there is little need to wear a mask out in a rainstorm, Ms. Parker-Pope notes: “In fact, you should take it off and keep it dry, so if you need to duck into a store to wait out the storm, you have a dry mask to wear indoors.”
Reporting was contributed by Johnny Diaz, Christopher Flavelle, Henry Fountain, Patrick J. Lyons, Tara Parker-Pope, Rick Rojas, Daniel Victor, Will Wright, Alan Yuhas and Mihir Zaveri