NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Severe weather brought lightning and drenching rains to the Tri-State area early Wednesday evening, while Tropical Storm Arthur threatened parts of the East Coast.
Severe thunderstorm watches and warnings, and flash flood warnings, were issued around the area. A flash flood watch remained in effect for much of the area — including the five boroughs of New York City — through Friday morning.
The rain had let up by the late evening hours. But early Wednesday evening, a violent downpour soaked Midtown Manhattan to the point where just running across the street would leave a pedestrian looking like he’d gone into the shower with his clothes on.
Earlier Wednesday, a tornado warning was issued for parts of Sullivan County. It later expired.
But a violent storm did strike Sullivan County, dropping about 2 to 3 feet of rain in Jeffersonville and prompting the evacuation of some residents. An estimated 3 feet of water was reported on Main Street in Jeffersonville.
Portions of Route 52 between Youngsville and Jeffersonville were washed out due to the Callicoon Creek overflowing, and the road had to be shut down.
In New Jersey, lightning flashed, thunder boomed and warning sirens wailed, WCBS 880’s Jim Smith reported.
“Yeah, crazy storm and lightning coming down the parkway,” said Mike Ramos.
The rain came down so hard, flash flooding wiped out intersections and some lanes and highways. Ramos was trying to navigate the parkway when the storm hit.
“It was scary. You could only go like 30 miles per hour on the highway. You get these people who think they can just go 60, 70 no matter what,” he said.
Some drivers reported seeing cars stuck in flooded out roadways. One man named Jim decided to ride it out at home.
“We got lucky. We didn’t lose any power,” he said.
The deluge caused widespread flash flooding in many areas, including a stretch under a railroad trestle in Cranford, New Jersey. Cars were left stranded and waterlogged, and some were towed away while the brave driver of a Mini Cooper tried to plow right through three feet of water.
The rain came in two waves – enough also to trap cars much closer to the city.
“The storm was bad — I could barely see out of my windshield. That part was bad. But over here, it didn’t get bad until like 45 minutes after it started raining,” said Andrew Pires of Cranford. “Now I’m stuck.”
That was not the worst of it.
“There were lightning bolts coming straight down,” said Vincent Colanelli of Cranford.
The Fourth of July was two nights in the future Tuesday, but there was quite the natural fireworks show in the skies over the Tri-State Area – with thunder sounding not unlike bombs bursting in air.
In Moonachie, New Jersey, power lines dropped to the ground – leaving menacing fireballs sizzling in the heavy rain.
In West Milford, lightning hit a transformer on Aspen Lane, sparking a fire on the second floor of a house across the street.
“The lightning strike caused the transformer to explode and maybe caused a backfeed into the house,” said West Milford Fire Marshal Mike Moscatello.
The homeowner was able to get out.
“I heard ‘pop, pop, pop,’” said homeowner Mary Wilhelmy. “The electric went out, there was thundering and lightning, and I heard, ‘pop, pop,’ and the lights went on again, and off again, and I smelled something like rubber burn.”
No injuries were reported as a direct result of the storms, although officials were investigating whether the weather was to blame for the collapse of a decorative façade on a Brooklyn Bridge underpass in downtown Brooklyn. The collapse sent five people to Bellevue Hospital Center.
The storms also brought widespread power outages to the area – most in New Jersey. As of shortly before 11 p.m., Public Service Electric and Gas reported 32,000 outages in New Jersey; Jersey Central Power and Light reported 3,200 outages in the state; Con Edison reported 1,900 outages in its service area in New York City and Westchester County, and Orange and Rockland reported 12,000 outages.
The storms also caused major airport delays Wednesday evening. Departure traffic was delayed an average of 2 hours and 14 minutes at Newark Liberty International Airport, 3 hours and 9 minutes at John F. Kennedy International Airport, and 2 hours and 20 minutes at LaGuardia Airport as of 8 p.m.
By 11 p.m., air traffic was largely back to normal.
And after so much trouble, the storm activity was not over late Wednesday night. Severe storms were still approaching Ocean and Monmouth counties at 11 p.m., Quinn reported.
A flood watch was to be in effect all through the day on Thursday, and even into Friday because of Tropical Storm Arthur.
Tropical Storm Arthur Coming North
Indeed, the severe weather on Wednesday might pale in comparison to what is likely coming later in the week, as Tropical Storm Arthur works its way up the East Coast.
With the July Fourth weekend on the horizon, the Atlantic hurricane season’s first named storm plodded off Florida’s coast early Wednesday with maximum sustained winds near 60 mph.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Arthur was expected to strengthen and become a hurricane by Thursday.
CBS 2’s Lonnie Quinn reports Arthur was exhibiting 70 mph winds in the Atlantic Ocean offshore from Florida Wednesday. The storm is expected to be upgraded to a Category 1 hurricane.
By Friday at 2 p.m., Arthur was expected to be spinning at 85 mph somewhere off the Delaware or Maryland coast. By Saturday, the storm will move north to Nova Scotia, Quinn forecast.
Arthur is not expected to make landfall. But it will cause trouble for the Fourth of July, with clouds and rain likely all morning and afternoon, and widespread clearing not coming until around 8 p.m., Quinn forecast.
Emergency management officials in New Jersey said although weather conditions are expected to improve on Saturday, rip currents are expected to pose a threat to swimmers along the Jersey Shore starting Thursday and continuing throughout the holiday weekend.
At least three people along the Shore have drowned in the ocean due to rip tides in the last several weeks, CBS 2’s Christine Sloan reported.
On Wednesday morning, the surf was rough despite the beautiful blue sky.
“I get trampled a lot (by the waves),” said Sophia.
Lifeguards are on patrol in Long Branch, watching for rip tides.
“The warning signs are the water going the opposite direction of the rest of the ocean, so it’s usually discolored,” said Dan George, with Long Branch Beach Patrol.
George showed Sloan how to get out of a rip tide.
“Number one: we do not panic, you relax. You let the rip tide take you where it’s going to take you. You don’t swim against it,” said George. “As it takes you, you can try to swim sideways.”
The Long Branch Beach Patrol also conducted a mock rescue on Wednesday.
“(What does it feel like when you’re caught in one?) You feel like you’re moving down, you’re sliding down and you really can’t control it,” said George.
Parents told Sloan they’re not taking any chances this upcoming weekend.
“We keep them close to shore and make sure our eyes are on them at all times. And that we’re by the lifeguards also,” said Paterson resident Danny Fontanella.
The lifeguards with the Long Branch Beach Patrol are on patrol between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m., but lifeguard posts vary up and down the Jersey Shore.
Rip currents are also a threat at the Rockaway and Coney Island beaches, 1010 WINS’ Al Jones reported.
“We’re fully staffed with lifeguards. We’ll have additional flags out there to warn about the rip tides,” Esposito said.
At Coney Island beach on Wednesday, Andrew Oliver was not taking chances. A line in the sand kept his 3-year-old out of the water altogether.
It’s important to remember when lifeguards are not on duty, you are swimming at your own risk, officials said.
As WCBS 880’s Levon Putney reported, whatever Arthur brings to the Fourth of July party, it won’t keep Deb from Florida away from the Shore.
She’s planning on Thursday night’s concert at the Stone Pony Sound Stage outside, but that’s when it’s supposed to rain.
“And so it’s quite possible that could be postponed,” said Asbury Park Mayor Myra Campbell.
Campbell said the town may miss the crowds Thursday night and early Friday, “But they will be here Saturday and Sunday.”
“I’ll be around. It doesn’t matter to me, I’m here,” said Deb.
And folks who are in the area for the holiday weekend are who bars are banking on.
“They’ll be here and I think people that are coming from far away already booked,” said Wonderbar manager Debbie Delisa.
Delisa said they’ll just have to take standard precautions before the storm hits.
“We’ll clear that deck, we’ll probably take the roof off the tiki bar,” she said.
And maybe serve drink specials on hurricanes.
“And we’ll just use this to our advantage,” she said.
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