Gov. Chris Christie has declared a state of emergency ahead of Hurricane Irene just before 1 p.m. today, urging a voluntary evacuation of shore areas.
In a news conference at State Police Regional Operations Intelligence Center, he urged tourists to abandon their plans for a weekend trip to the Jersey Shore and for residents to instead immediately focus on hurricane preparedness.
The forecast track of Hurricane Irene will cause significant impacts regardless of its exact course, forecasters from the National Hurricane Center warned in an update released at 11 a.m. Thursday.
The state of emergency mobilizes the National Guard to address the hurricane preparedness.
In Cape May County, officials signed an emergency proclamation at 2 p.m. calling for a mandatory evacuation of barrier islands today and a mandatory evacuation of all of Cape May County at 8 a.m. on Friday, August 26.
Things should be much less dramatic inland in Essex County, though the governor warned of possible flash flooding and wind damage throughout the state.
In Maplewood, Township Administrator Joseph Manning said that "our emergency planning committee will meet tomorrow morning to finalize the planning and preparation for the projected weather event. Fire, public works and police departments will lead the efforts." Manning added, "Those and other department heads are at work making sure equipment is ready to respond if needed."
An air mass coming across North America will not be enough to stear Irene clear from the eastern seaboard, and the storm will still be packing hurricane-force winds when it is in the vicinity of New Jersey.
"I'd rather be wrong here," said meteorologist Steve DiMartino of NYNJPAweather.com, who said he agrees with the forecast track put out by the hurricane center.
"Saturday night into Sunday is not going to be very pretty in New Jersey," DiMartino said, predicting the storm would cause a 3 to 5 foot storm in Ocean and Monmouth counties, and pack potential wind speeds of 75 to 100 m.p.h. on the coast.
In , continuous inland winds in this area could go as high as 50 miles per hour, with hurricane force gusts possible, said State Climatologist David A. Robinson.
"With the ground so wet, it's easier for trees to get uprooted," Robinson said. "We're all too well primed for problems in terms of uprooted trees and flooding rivers."
Robinson was careful to say that all the forecast scenarios are potential, and not definites. Forecasts are still taking shape as the days progress, but the agreement across those forecasts is that if the hurricane does make landfall in New Jersey, there will be problems.
"There is a lot of consensus in the forecast models that New Jersey will be very close to this storm, (and) the inescapable threat is that there is a major threat here," Robinson said.
Robinson said that it is important that people take the proper precautions. "I really hope people just find a safe place to stay and ride it out," he said.
Stay tuned as Patch brings you regular updates as well as important emergency information throughout the weekend.