Hurricane Irene became the ninth named storm of the 2011 Atlantic hurricane season after it developed on August 20in the eastern Caribbean Sea. The storm is currently located approximately 25 miles (40 kilometers) west of San Juan in Puerto Rico, according to the National Hurricane Center (NHC). Irene intensified this morning to become the first hurricane of the 2011 season. The storm currently packs sustained winds of around 75 mph (120 kmph), equivalent to a weak category 1 hurricane. Irene is traveling in a west-northwest direction and is expected to maintain this general motion for the next 48 hours. On this forecast track, Irene is expected to move off the north coast of Puerto Rico this morning and pass near or over northern coastal regions of the Dominican Republic later today. The NHC said hurricane force winds extend 15 miles (30 kilometers) from the center of the storm while tropical storm force winds extend 150 miles (240 kilometers).
A hurricane warning is in effect for Puerto Rico and the northern coast of the Dominican Republic. A tropical storm warning has also been issued for the U.S. Virgin Islands, British Virgin Islands, the south coast of the Dominican Republic, Haiti, the southern Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands. Tropical storm conditions are already occurring in the Virgin Islands, eastern Puerto Rico and Culebra and Vieques. Hurricane conditions are also expected in Puerto Rico, Culebra and Vieques and in the Dominican Republic today. There have been no early reports of serious damage here. The NHC said Irene is expected bring up to 10 inches (255 millimeters) of rain to Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, the southern Bahamas and the Turk and Caicos Islands, enough to cause life threatening flash floods and mudslides. Storm surge warnings have also been issued, with waves up to 4 feet (1.2 meters) above normal tide levels expected in the hurricane and tropical storm warning area. The NHC added that the surge will be accompanied by large and dangerous waves.
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On its current path, Irene will move off the north coast of Puerto Rico and then brush northern coastal regions of the Dominican Republic later today, according to the NHC. Irene’s intensity is expected to gradually strengthen as it moves through northern parts of the Caribbean. Although there is significant uncertainty in both the forecast track and intensity, the NHC currently expects Irene to pass through the Bahamas later this week on a trajectory that takes it towards southeastern regions of the United States. The current NHC long range forecast has Irene intensifying into a category 2 hurricane after moving through the Bahamas. The extended NHC forecast then has Irene approaching the Florida peninsula towards the end of the week, running parallel along the eastern coast of the state and making landfall near the Florida/Georgia border on August 27. However, forecast models vary significantly, with some showing Irene tracking to the west of Florida into the Gulf of Mexico and others predicting the storm will curve to the east back out into the ocean. Long-term forecasts are subject to potentially large errors in both track and intensity and forecasters stress it is too early to say if Irene will threaten the United States.
Earlier, Irene moved through the northern Leeward Islands as a tropical storm on August 21. The NHC said Irene brought tropical storm conditions and squalls to the region, with sustained winds estimated at around 50 mph (85 kmph) as it moved through the region. The governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands declared a state of emergency in order to impose storm curfews and early reports indicate that the strong winds and heavy rain closed airports and flooded low-lying areas across the Leeward Islands. However, no significant damage has been reported in the region at this time.
Separately, Tropical Storm Harvey, the eighth named storm of the 2011 Atlantic hurricane season, made landfall in Belize on August 20, bringing tropical storm-force winds and heavy rain to Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico. Although authorities reported strong winds and heavy rainfall in each of these countries, no major wind or flood damage has been reported so far.
Sources: National Hurricane Center, WSI, Associated Press, Reuters News, Agence France Presse, AIR Worldwide
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