Forecasters said Friday that Irene could be the most damaging hurricane to hit the east coast since Hazel in 1954.
That prediction added to the grim picture AccuWeather forecasters painted on Thursday, as they called for 80 mph winds and up to a foot of rain as the storm's eyewall passes close to Manhattan.
There was, however, a glimmer of hope from the National Weather Service, which lowered its rainfall and wind projections overnight. The NWS is now calling for between five and seven inches of rain for North Jersey and winds reaching 47mph.
Flooding could be intensified, however, as New Jersey has already received double the amount of rain as in a typical August. Area residents can keep abreast of the level of rivers at the National Weather Service's Advanced Hydrologic Prediction Service.
Bergen County officials have prepared a range of responses if Hurricane Irene hits the county, from activating the water search and rescue unit to preparing emergency shelters.
“We started our preparedness early in the week when we first saw the storm was coming,” said Jeanne Baratta, chief of staff to County Executive Kathleen Donovan.
County emergency management officials are in contact with local hospitals and are ready if municipalities need assistance, Baratta said. The county has also requested a power substation from Public Service Electric & Gas in the event stations near the Hackensack River are knocked offline by flooding.
With help from the sheriff’s office, officials are prepared to open emergency shelters if the need arises, Baratta said.
Flooding is the biggest concern for officials, including in Westwood and areas along the Hackensack River.
“We’re obviously looking very hard at the areas where we have had flooding,” Baratta said. “We know that even three to four inches of rain will have an impact.”
Forecasts call for the weather to worsen starting late Saturday and officials are bracing for downpours on Sunday.
“It looks like the rain is going to be pretty intense on Sunday,” Baratta said. “We anticipate significant flooding.”
Emergency alerts can be sent from the county’s Mahwah dispatch center and via the news media, Baratta said. Residents can also check www.co.bergen.nj.us for information. The County published a hurricane checklist for residents, which details the steps people should take in advance of the storm.
The NWS predicts the impact of the storm will begin late Saturday and run through Sunday, first in the form of rain, with winds picking up as the day progresses on Sunday.
Gov. Chris Christie , urging a voluntary evacuation of Shore areas and mobilizing the National Guard. He said tourists should abandon their plans for a weekend trip to the Jersey Shore and that residents should immediately focus on hurricane preparedness.
"If it continues on the current track, from a flooding perspective this could be a 100 year event," Christie said.
Bergen County published a hurricane checklist for residents, which details the steps people should take in advance of the storm.