Hurricane Irene poised to slam New York City and beyond
As Hurricane Irene continued to pummel the Bahamas on Thursday morning, it appeared increasingly likely that the populous northeastern corridor of the U.S.--still dazed from a rare 5.8 magnitude earthquake--was in the massive storm's crosshairs.
Kristina Pydynowski, a senior meteorologist with AccuWeather.com, predicted Thursday morning that the hurricane was "now on a path that could take it dangerously close to, if not over, the mid-Atlantic coastline and New York City on Sunday, posing a serious danger to millions of people."
The storm could "pass within 30 miles of New York City" on Sunday evening as a Category 2 hurricane, meaning winds would be between 96 and 110 miles per hour. She warned that glass windows could shatter on New York City skyscrapers. Beyond New York City, she said, hurricane-force winds could plague the Delmarva coast, eastern New Jersey, Long Island and southwestern New England.
View Hurricane Irene track forecast in a larger map
The storm will probably slam North Carolina's Outer Banks on Saturday night as a Category 3 or Category 4 hurricane. Pydynowski predicted it would then head "close to or over" the mid-Atlantic coast and New York City before hitting western New England.
Less powerful tropical storm-force winds, she said, could hit numerous other communties, including Richmond, Va., Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Albany, N.Y.
In North Carolina, officials continued to watch the storm's path closely, preparing for another day of evacuations.
At 5 a.m. Eastern time, Irene was wheeling 80 miles east-southeast of Nassau--about 735 miles south of Cape Hatteras, N.C.--and creeping northwest at 12 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center.
There has been some discussion in recent days about whether the center of the storm would land on North Carolina soil, or whether it would turn north and skirt the coastline. It appears likely that the Tarheel state will suffer either way, given Irene's tremendous footprint, seen in this infrared colorized view as it advances toward the East Coast. Its hurricane force winds extend 70 miles from the center, with tropical storm-force winds extending 255 miles.
The National Hurricane Center issued a hurricane watch for the vast majority of the North Carolina coast, from Surf City, just north of Wilmington, up to the Virginia state line. A tropical storm watch was issued from north of Edisto Beach, South Carolina, up to Wilmington.
A hurricane watch is issued when officials expect hurricane conditions, with sustained winds of 74 mph or higher, to occur within those areas.
That means Thursday will probably be another day of minivans and SUVs pulling away from the sun and sand at the height of vacation season, and heading to safety inland, or back home. Dare County issued a mandatory evacuation for nonresidents Wednesday, affecting an estimated 150,000 visitors, according to the Charlotte Observer.
Officials in coastal Currituck and Carteret counties would decide whether to issue evacuation orders today, the paper reported.
Meanwhile, extensive damage was reported in the southeast Bahamas, with landlines knocked out, power outages, flooded roads and damaged homes, schools and churches, the Nassau Guardian reported.
Photo: An infrared colorized view of Hurricane Irene as it advances toward the East Coast (AP Photo/NOAA)