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Hurricane forces a change in plans

Boats pulled, concert reset, Sox weigh schedule change

By Derek J. Anderson and Martin Finucane
Globe Correspondent And Globe Staff / August 25, 2011

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As Hurricane Irene’s 120-mile-per-hour winds ripped through the Bahamas with Category 3 strength last night, New Englanders were already feeling the storm’s effects, as boats were pulled from harbors, a big Kenny Chesney concert at Gillette Stadium was rescheduled, and the Red Sox were considering moving up one of their games at Fenway Park.

“The way hurricanes work is with hot water,’’ said Eleanor Vallier-Talbot, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service Forecast Office in Taunton.

“The water is not as hot up here, so [storms] weaken,’’ she said. “We’re expecting [Irene] to weaken. However it is still a force to be reckoned with.’’

As the hurricane steadily moves toward the US East Coast, residents can anticipate Irene’s arrival in New England around Sunday afternoon, said Vallier-Talbot.

“Later Sunday and Sunday night is when we can expect the worst of it,’’ she said. “It’s going to move right along through.’’

But as Irene approaches, events and plans are already being rescheduled and preparations were underway.

“We’ve been pulling boats nonstop,’’ said Will Schrade, the assistant harbormaster for Edgartown. “We’ve pulled just over 150. If you’re near the water, basically board up your windows.’’

Schrade also said that residents on the water should consider finding alternate shelter, especially if the area is directly hit.

Country music star Chesney also was not taking any chances. Promoters said yesterday that they were rescheduling his Gillette Stadium concert to Friday, instead of Sunday as originally planned, according to a statement posted on Chesney’s website.

Five people were killed and 25 others injured on Aug. 13 when a stage and scaffolding collapsed at a Sugarland concert in Indiana. The stage area was struck by gusting winds.

The Red Sox games with Oakland this weekend have been thrown a curve, as well.

According to manager Terry Francona, the Sox are brainstorming how to get all three games against the Athletics in this weekend with the storm’s expected Sunday strike.

The Athletics do not have another series against Boston this season and will not return to the East Coast, which would force the teams to rematch on Sept. 29 before the playoffs, something neither side wants. There could be a doubleheader on Friday or Saturday night.

Much of Cape Cod is already preparing.

“We have a checklist that we do when there is an impending storm,’’ said Lieutenant Ed Guilford of the Barnstable Fire Department. “It mostly includes making sure that our vehicles are fueled . . . [and] making sure the station is ready. There should be a meeting with Barnstable Police Department, who heads the preparedness meetings’’ today.

The Falmouth Fire Department is also beginning to prepare. The Falmouth Emergency Operations Center is set to release information to the public today.

By late last night, there was still uncertainty surrounding the hurricane’s track.

Craig Fugate, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, cautioned that even if the storm loses some of its power, winds from a tropical storm could still be a “significant threat.’’

Fugate said officials had been briefing President Obama, whose vacation on Martha’s Vineyard ends Saturday, just as the storm is expected to start touching Massachusetts.

Bill Read, director of the National Hurricane Center, said Irene could become a “big threat to New England’’ when it arrives.

A “predecessor heavy rain event’’ is expected Saturday in advance of the storm. The major impact is anticipated to hit the Bay State Sunday or Sunday night.

“Friday will probably be the day when we go into tropical storms and hurricane watches and warnings,’’ said Vallier-Talbot. “It will start as a watch. We’ll issue a hurricane local statement, which will have what to expect and preparation information.’’

“We are expecting landfall [at] the tip of Long Island as of right now, but it could change,’’ she continued. “In normal situations . . . hurricanes on the East Coast pick up speed. The strongest winds are usually to the right of the eye. The heaviest rain would be [to] the west of the center of where the storm crosses the coast.’’

Last night, Irene was roaring across the entire Bahamas archipelago, knocking down trees and tearing up roofs and posing a serious threat to the smallest and least populated islands, officials said.

Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham of the Bahamas said there have been no major injuries or deaths, according to preliminary reports he has been receiving from the widely scattered islands. But he added that they would not know the full extent of damage from the Category 3 storm until it is clear of the country tomorrow.

In Massachusetts, “water is starting to sell out all over the place,’’ said Vallier-Talbot.

“Hopefully people have already started preparing,’’ she said. “People should have a prepared kit all ready, even if there isn’t a hurricane on the way. It’s all common sense stuff, really.’’

Terry McCarthy, owner of the Dockside Market Place & Marina on the east coast of Martha’s Vineyard, is not taking any chances.

“We are actually ordering plywood and plan on boarding some windows up,’’ McCarthy said. “I’m probably going to put some sandbags out, depending on the tides. If it is high tide or rising tides, I’ll be far more concerned.’’

According to McCarthy, such preparations are standard.

“It’s routine, but you look at each storm independently,’’ he said. “With this one, the problem is this has the potential to be really big, but we just don’t know what to expect.’’

McCarthy said that a lot of people are talking about Irene, but not a lot of action seems to have taken place. There are a fair number of boats in the harbor, he said.

“A lot of these boaters have been through this before,’’ said McCarthy. “Pulling your boat out of the water is expensive. I would make arrangements to have it pulled. but I don’t know if I’d pull it just yet.’’

With mixed opinions and an uncertain track, Irene continues to throw New Englanders for a loop. As the storm moves closer, however, more concrete information is expected.

“The next two days of forecast is pretty well set,’’ said Vallier-Talbot. “As each day goes by we get more and more confident with the forecast.’’

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report. Derek Anderson can be reached at derek.anderson@globe.com and Martin Finucane at mfinucane@globe.com.