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Hurricane Irene intensifies, on track to become Category 3 storm

August 22, 2011 |  1:39 pm

Path-of-Hurricane-Irene

Hurricane Irene refuses to let anything stand in its way, sidestepping Hispaniola -- which could have disrupted its wrath considerably -- and picking up speed. Listed as a Category 1 hurricane around midday Monday, the storm was on track to become a Category 3 hurricane with winds of up to 115 miles per hour.

It's poised to slam into Florida by Thursday and then drive up the East Coast by the weekend, hitting Georgia and the Carolinas along the way.

"It is at the very least threatening the southeastern U.S. coastline, and has the potential to be a major hurricane in the next 48 to 72 hours," Dennis Feltgen, a spokesman for the National Hurricane Center in Miami, said in an interview with The Times.

Until then, hurricane conditions are expected over northern parts of the Dominican Republic on Monday night, and expected to reach parts of the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands by Tuesday.

South Florida could be spared the worst this storm has to offer because its path has shifted slightly to the east, according to the National Hurricane Center io Miami. But the rest of the state is not likely to fare as well, unless something dramatic happens. And it could: So far, Hurricane Irene has been bringing the drama -- gaining in speed, intensity and ferocity as it heads toward the U.S.

"The official forecast calls for intensification," according to the hurricane center's website. "Irene is becoming a large cyclone."

Coastal residents are being urged to keep close tabs on the hurricane's projected path, which could be off by as much as 250 miles in either direction. The outlines of a white "cone" in the above image charts the areas most likely to be affected by the fierce winds and heavy rains.

Earlier, meteorologists had hoped that Irene might slow down; it was headed straight for Hispaniola and the mountain range saddling the island shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic. "It would have disrupted and likely weakened the storm," Feltgen said.

That didn't happen.

Instead, Irene has taken a more northerly route that "will allow it to continue to strengthen," he said.

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--Rene Lynch
On Twitter @renelynch

Image: The projected path of Hurricane Irene. Credit: National Hurricane Center

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