Hurricane Irene is currently located approximately 105 miles (170 kilometers) southeast of Grand Turk Island, according to the National Hurricane Center (NHC). The storm packs sustained winds of around 100 mph (160 kmph), equivalent to a category 2 hurricane. Irene is expected to strengthen over the next few days, potentially reaching category 4 status as it approaches the eastern U.S. coastline. Irene is traveling in a west-northwest direction and this motion is expected to continue today followed by a turn to the northwest tonight and tomorrow. On this forecast track, Irene is expected to pass to the north of the Dominican Republic and Haiti this morning. The storm is then expected to be near or over the Turks and Caicos Islands and the southeastern Bahamas tonight and the central Bahamas tomorrow. The NHC said hurricane force winds extend 50 miles (85 kilometers) from the center of the storm while tropical storm-force winds extend 205 miles (335 kilometers).
A hurricane warning is in effect for the north coast of the Dominican Republic, the Turks and Caicos Islands and southeastern and central Bahamas. A tropical storm warning has also been issued for Haiti and the south coast of the Dominican Republic. Hurricane conditions are expected in parts of northern Dominican Republic this morning and tropical storm conditions are expected to reach the Turks and Caicos Islands and southeastern and central Bahamas later today. Hurricane conditions are expected here by tomorrow. The NHC said Irene is expected to bring up to 10 inches (255 millimeters) of rain to the Dominican Republic, Haiti, southern and central 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 13 feet (3.8 meters) above normal tide levels expected over southeastern and central Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands. The NHC added that the surge will be accompanied by large and dangerous waves.
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On its current path, Irene is expected to move north of Hispaniola this morning, according to the NHC. Irene’s intensity is expected to gradually strengthen as it moves through northern parts of the Caribbean and could become a major hurricane later today or tomorrow, the NHC said. The NHC official forecast has shifted to the east since yesterday’s update. Although there is significant uncertainty in both the forecast track and intensity, the NHC expects Irene to pass through the Bahamas later this week on a trajectory that takes it towards southeastern regions of the United States. Irene is expected to intensify into a category 3/4 hurricane during this time. The extended NHC forecast now has Irene remaining offshore of Florida before making landfall near Wilmington in North Carolina on August 28 as a category 3 hurricane. However, forecast models continue to vary, with some showing Irene making landfall near Charleston in South Carolina and others predicting the storm will curve to the east back out into the Atlantic. Forecasters said the threat to Florida may be diminishing, although the state’s eastern coastline is still in the NHC’s cone of uncertainty. The NHC also stressed that long-term forecasts are subject to potentially large errors in both track and intensity and it is too early to say if Irene will make landfall in the United States.
According to EQECAT, the forecast path of Irene shows a similarity to the track taken by Hurricane Floyd in 1999. Hurricane Floyd was a category 4 hurricane at its peak that made landfall in North Carolina. EQECAT said Floyd caused about USD5 billion in losses, primarily from inland flooding in North Carolina.
Hurricane Irene has already caused disruption in the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Authorities in the Dominican Republic closed schools and evacuated northern coastal communities ahead of the storm’s arrival. A red alert has been issued for 23 provinces and the capital, while the other eight provinces were placed under a yellow alert. Emergency preparations were also stepped up in neighboring Haiti. The country, which suffers from extensive deforestation and poor infrastructure, is particularly vulnerable to heavy rainfall and hundreds of thousands of people are still living in makeshift camps after a powerful earthquake hit the country in January 2010. In the U.K. territory of the Turks and Caicos Islands, meanwhile, people have been reinforcing windows and doors, as well as stocking up on supplies.
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 some islands, 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. Reports also indicate that the strong winds and heavy rain closed airports, caused scattered power cuts and flooded low-lying areas in the islands of Antigua and Barbuda, St. Kitts and Nevis, Guadeloupe and St. Maarten. However, no significant damage has been reported in the Leeward Islands.
Irene also brought storm winds and heavy rain to Puerto Rico as it crossed the island on August 22. Local media in Puerto Rico reported that about 800 people sought refuge in shelters and power was cut to 800,000 people. Some 120,000 people lost water supplies. Several rivers also burst their banks after up to 10 inches (255 millimeters) of rain fell and many trees and power lines were downed. Governor Luis Fortuno said the worst-hit area was along the east coast, where widespread damage was reported, and he urged people to stay indoors to avoid downed power lines, flooded streets and other hazards. President Barack Obama has signed an emergency declaration for Puerto Rico to help speed up disbursement of federal aid. According to AIR Worldwide, building code enforcement in Puerto Rico is relatively high, meaning insured losses are not expected to be significant.
Sources: National Hurricane Center, WSI, Associated Press, Reuters News, Agence France Presse, AIR Worldwide, EQEQACT, BBC News, CNN News
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