Hurricane Irene weakens, but could strengthen again before slamming N.C.
Hurricane Irene has weakened somewhat over the Atlantic as it roars toward the U.S. East Coast, but it could intensify again before slamming into North Carolina, and federal officials Friday extended watches and warnings as far north as Martha's Vineyard, Mass.
As of 5 a.m. Eastern time, Irene was 420 miles from Cape Hatteras, N.C., with sustained winds of 110 mph, making it a Category 2 hurricane, according to a National Hurricane Center bulletin issued early today.
The storm will lumber north today at 14 mph, well off the Florida coast, then arrive in North Carolina Saturday as a Category 2 or Category 3 hurricane. From there, it is expected to head toward the Chesapeake Bay and the Delaware, Maryland and Virginia peninsula, according to AccuWeather.com. By Sunday it could pass within 30 miles of New York City, still at Category 2 strength.
View Hurricane Irene track forecast in a larger map
In North Carolina, where thousands of evacuating vacationers and locals have been clogging roads, the latest predictions show the storm moving in such a way that the right front portion of the storm, usually the most destructive, will hit barrier islands, with the storm's center heading farther inland than previously predicted, the Raleigh News & Observer reports.
"The worst surge is just to the right of the track, so maybe now we're looking at more storm surge impacts from Cape Lookout up to the Albemarle Sound," Nick Petro, a National Weather Service Meteorologist, told the paper. "And we could see as much as 3, 4 or even 5 inches of rain along the Interstate 95 corridor."
Federal officials issued a hurricane watch early Friday from north of Sandy Hook, N.J. to the mouth of the Merrimack River, an area that includes Long Island, Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard, where President Obama and his family are vacationing.
Obama and his entourage remained on the island Thursday, even as others headed to the mainland for safety, the Boston Herald reported. While emergency officials held meeting after meeting to prepare for disaster, POTUS was hanging out at the private Pohogonot beach.
"The island is cranking up," Peter Martell, an emergency management director on the island, told the paper. "A hurricane is like a large gorilla. It goes wherever it wants, whenever it wants."
For the record, 6:41 a.m., Aug. 26: An earlier version of this post referred to Pennsylvania's Delmarva Coast. Delmarva refers to the Delaware-Maryland-Virginia peninsula. Thanks to our geographically astute readers for pointing this out.
Photo: An image provided by NOAA shows an infrared, colorized view of Hurricane Irene as it nears the East Coast. (AP Photo/NOAA)