The storm known as Lee, still a dangerous post-tropical cyclone, bore down on Eastern Maine and Canada Saturday afternoon, packing powerful winds that toppled trees and knocked out power to tens of thousands of people and sending surging ocean waters over jetties and sea walls.
With days to prepare for the slow-moving hurricane, remote coastal towns in Eastern Maine and Atlantic Canada had moved methodically to pluck boats from the water and stockpile supplies, allowing residents who pride themselves on rugged self-reliance to face the impact of the weather system with a steady calm, if not serenity.
“We’re an island in the bay. We have storms that never make the news,” said Bud Finch, interim city manager in Eastport, Maine, which is connected to the mainland by a causeway. “We’re much more prepared for it than most people are.”
From its modest beginnings in the first days of September, Lee traveled more than 3,000 miles across the Atlantic, widening to huge size and reaching Category 5 hurricane intensity with 165-mile-per-hour winds well away from land on Sept. 8. But by the time the storm traversed the Gulf of Maine on Saturday, it had weakened to a post-tropical cyclone with winds equivalent to those of a Category 1 hurricane. By midafternoon, it was moving parallel to the coast but had not made landfall.
By the time the storm brushed against New England Friday night and Saturday, bringing gusty winds, it was something familiar to the region, akin to a nor’easter, not the hypothetical monster storm that had fueled dread on social media as early as Labor Day weekend, days before it even had a name.
Winds gusted to 44 miles per hour in Provincetown, at the outer edge of Cape Cod, at the height of the storm, and to 55 miles per hour on the island of Nantucket, 30 miles off the Massachusetts coast; gusts hit 77 miles per hour on Grand Manan Island in New Brunswick, Canada, according to the National Hurricane Center.
On Saturday morning, it appeared that Cape Cod and coastal Massachusetts had been spared the devastating impacts once feared. But anxiety was climbing in far eastern portions of Maine, and in Atlantic Canada, where wind speeds and wave heights intensified as the center of the storm closed in.
More than 90,000 customers in Maine and 140,000 customers in Nova Scotia were without power Saturday afternoon, according to Nova Scotia Power and poweroutage.us, a website that tracks utility data, and more than 250 flights had been canceled at airports in Boston and Bangor and Portland, Maine.
Fishermen eyed the worsening conditions with concern. André Atkinson, a fishing boat captain in Barrington, Nova Scotia, one of the regions expected to take the brunt of the storm, returned early from a halibut fishing trip on Saturday morning and moved his boat to a safer part of the harbor.
“I’ve been looking at the weather charts for 15 years. I’ve never seen seas like this,” he said. “We wouldn’t be able to survive one like this out there.”
Mr. Atkinson said he expected to lose sales in his online lobster business because of the unlucky timing of the storm, which he called “a big rough.” Many lobsters are currently molting — shedding their old shells and growing new ones — making them less hardy than they would normally be, he said.
“They’re very vulnerable. Their shells are almost like jelly,” Mr. Atkinson said. “It’s a bad time to have a big rough. I think it’ll smash them all up and kill a lot of lobsters.”
Ferries were docked and sports events canceled in Nova Scotia on Saturday. In Yarmouth, a town on the southwestern tip of the province where the storm was expected to make landfall, many shops and cafes on the main street were closed, said Cindy Nickerson, co-owner of a local clothing store, Yarmouth Wool Shoppe. Ms. Nickerson said the street lamps and streetlights were rattling in the wind.
“It’ll blow for a while. Then it’ll stop. Then it gets another huff,” she said.
Officials have advised residents of southwestern Nova Scotia, which appeared to be directly in the storm’s path, to stock up on food and water — and to keep cars away from trees, which may be felled by high winds.
For many in the region, power outages were the biggest problem. Cory Chase, 51, owner of Darby’s Restaurant & Pub in downtown Belfast, Maine, policed the coolers and freezers at his business throughout the day to try and keep them closed and prevent food spoilage.
“It is what it is,” he said. “We’re lucky we didn’t get a direct hit.”
Jamie Dodge, 32, of nearby Northport, ventured out on Saturday to the Belfast farmers’ market, which was held indoors, seeking company, fresh vegetables and a look at how the boats in the harbor were faring in the storm.
“People here don’t usually stay inside for a storm unless there’s four feet of snow,” she said.
Maine declared a state of emergency on Thursday, and President Biden authorized a federal emergency declaration. The governor, Janet Mills, warned residents that the high winds “likely will cause storm surge, inland flooding, infrastructure damage and power outages.”
Massachusetts also declared a state of emergency on Friday. By Saturday afternoon, the storm had passed east of Cape Cod, bringing strong winds but few reports of serious damage, an outcome that left many grateful.
In Orleans and Harwich, a few trees fell, the police said, while the authorities in the town of Truro did not have a single call about the storm overnight on Friday.
“We’ve been very fortunate,” said a police dispatcher in Chatham, another small town on the outer Cape that had braced for the worst.
Still, public safety officials warned that rip currents and high surf would remain dangerous even on Sunday, when the sun would re-emerge, and urged beachgoers and wave watchers to be cautious.
Andrew Sankey, director of emergency management for coastal Hancock County, Maine, said he, too, hoped that people would resist the lure of crashing waves and keep their distance. He expected road crews with snow plows would be needed to clear piles of wave-driven boulders and debris from some roads after the storm subsided.
On Cape Cod’s Nauset Beach in Orleans, Lydia Sayre, 25, could not resist, and came off the beach soaked and shivering Saturday morning.
“I had my back to the ocean to get a picture, and a wave snuck up on me,” she said.
Ms. Sayre visited the beach with her husband Tim and their 7-month-old, Titus, bundled in his winter coat so he could catch a glimpse of his first hurricane.
Unlike his exhilarated mother, Titus reacted neutrally.
“I think he’d rather be in bed,” she said.
Jacey Fortin, Judson Jones, John Yoon, Alicia Anstead, Colleen Cronin and Sydney Cromwell contributed reporting.