As Hurricane Irene made landfall along the New Jersey coast early Sunday morning, strong rains could be felt in parts of Massachusetts as the powerful storm makes its way north.
Two thousand Massachusetts National Guard troops were activated Saturday, joining the 500 already deployed Friday. Meanwhile, President Obama declared a state of emergency in Massachusetts late Friday, meaning state and local storm response will be bolstered by federal aid.
Irene made its first landfall at North Carolina's Outer Banks on Saturday morning, with sustained winds down to 85 mph from about 100 on Friday, making it a Category 1, the least threatening on the scale. The National Hurricane Center reported gusts of 115 mph and storm-surge waves as high as 7 feet on Saturday.
On Saturday afternoon, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick said Irene's main track northward had shifted inland, just to the west of Springfield.
With winds at their worst east of the storm's center, Patrick said the forecast was calling for sustained winds up to 90 mph in Worcester County and 70 mph on Cape Cod. Four to eight foot surges were predicted on the state's southern coast, while the worst rainfall, up to a foot total, was predicted in the westernmost parts of the state, the governor said. The National Guard was preparing sand bags in anticipation of serious flooding, he said.
"This is a very, very serious weather event, if the reality turns out to be what the forecast has been," Patrick said, after a briefing with officials at the state's emergency management headquarters in Framingham.
"This is not a time to panic, but it is a time to be prepared," he said.
There was no panic at Plymouth harbor, where a waterfront festival went on as planned in front of calm waters Saturday, and organizers expected strong attendance.
Of the 213 vendors signed up to hawk of various crafts, foods and jewelry, only seven didn't show. Later that night, the "Plymouth Idol" competition, a knock-off of the popular television show, was expected to be a strong draw.
"People are going to come out because they know they'll be stuck in tomorrow," said Denis Hanks, executive director of the Plymouth Area Chamber of Commerce.
It wasn't all business as usual everywhere in Plymouth. Diane Haughn of Maryland was gearing up to wait another week after her daughter Tiffany Phillips' waterfront wedding, scheduled for Sunday, was postponed. Each of the 140 guests got a call Friday after the agonizing decision, Haughn said.
"It was an awful day," Haughn said.
In Lenox, the Boston Symphony Orchestra made the first cancellation in its 75-year history at Tanglewood, its western Massachusetts concert venue. The orchestra said it decided to cancel its Sunday afternoon performance of Beethoven's "Ninth Symphony" due to concerns about safety for its patrons, musicians and employees, amid predicted damaging winds and flooding rains.
The state was coordinating with utilities to prepare for possible widespread power outages, and National Grid urged residents to stock up on water, batteries and canned goods. State reservoirs were being drawn down to help absorb rainfall and mitigate flooding, debris clearance teams were mobilized, and search-and-rescue teams were ready if needed.
Well before its arrival, Irene was already changing many people's plans on one of the last, and traditionally one of the busiest, weekends of the summer season.
The Boston Red Sox moved their scheduled Sunday game against the Oakland Athletics to Saturday night and a Kenny Chesney concert scheduled for Gillette Stadium in Foxborough was also moved up. The USS Constitution — "Old Ironsides" — said it would close to tourists on Sunday.
The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority said all of its buses and trains were scheduled to run on a normal weekend timetable unless conditions significantly deteriorated. Logan International Airport was prepared to remain open, but many airlines were canceling flights for the weekend, with almost no flights expected out of Logan on Sunday.
The Westover Air Base in Chicopee decided to move its fleet of 18 massive C-5 transport planes to Air Force bases in Florida and Ohio.
The worst of the storm was expected during the prime time for Sunday church services. The Boston Archdiocese leaves decisions on cancellations to its pastors, but a spokesman urged parishioners to use good judgment when deciding whether to venture out.
The faithful may rely on God for protection, but they should also use other gifts from the Almighty, said spokesman Terry Donilon.
"God also gave us free will," he said. "He also gave us the capacity to have common sense."
This article was originally published on August 27, 2011.
This program aired on August 27, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.