Hurricane Irene is currently located approximately 105 miles (170 kilometers) north of Nassau in the Bahamas and 610 miles (980 kilometers) south of Cape Hatteras in North Carolina, according to the National Hurricane Center (NHC). The storm packs sustained winds of around 115 mph (185 kmph), equivalent to a category 3 hurricane. Irene is expected to strengthen over the next 24 hours, potentially reaching category 4 status as it approaches the southeastern coast of the United States. Irene is currently traveling in a north-northwest direction, and will continue this movement through tonight before taking a turn towards the north by early Friday. On this forecast track, Irene is expected to move over the northwestern Bahamas today and pass well offshore of Florida’s east coast tomorrow. The storm is expected to brush the North Carolina coast on Saturday before heading towards northeastern regions of the United States. The NHC said Irene is now a dangerous storm, with hurricane force winds extending 70 miles (110 kilometers) from the center of the storm and tropical storm force winds extending 290 miles (465 kilometers).
A hurricane warning is in effect for the central and northwestern Bahamas. A hurricane watch has also been issued for the North Carolina coast, from north of Surf City to the North Carolina/Virginia border, including the Pamlico, Albemarle, and Currituck Sounds. Hurricane force winds are still occurring in the northwestern Bahamas, but should begin to diminish later today. The NHC said Irene is expected to bring up to 12 inches (305 millimeters) of rain to the Bahamas over the next 24 hours. Storm surge warnings have also been issued, with waves up to 11 feet (3.5 meters) above normal tide levels expected over parts of the Bahamas. The NHC added that the surge will be accompanied by large and dangerous waves. Surf swells generated by Irene are also likely to hit parts of the southeastern United States today, generating life threatening surf and rip current conditions. Tropical storm-force winds along the coast of North and South Carolina are possible by late Friday.
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On its current path, the NHC said Irene is expected to continue to move over the northwestern Bahamas today. Irene’s intensity is expected to strengthen as it moves through the region and could become a category 4 hurricane in the next 24 hours. Current forecasts show Irene approaching the east coast of North Carolina on Saturday as a major hurricane, with the rest of the United States eastern seaboard in its path. The NHC’s director, Bill Reade, predicted that Irene would weaken to a category 2 storm after hitting North Carolina on Saturday. Irene would then move through Delaware, Maryland, and coastal regions of Virginia on Sunday. At this pace, and on its current track, Irene could move into New York and parts of New England on Monday.
U.S. emergency officials are urging millions of residents from the Carolinas to the New England area to monitor Irene. North Carolina authorities have expanded evacuation orders to include more than 200,000 tourists and locals in three coastal counties. With the densely populated New York City in Irene’s path, possible hurricane evacuations are being considered. New York City mayor, Michael Bloomberg, stated he was prepared to order evacuations from low-lying areas if necessary. Bloomberg expects to make the decision by late Friday. Possible areas to be evacuated include neighborhoods along the coast, such as Battery Park City in lower Manhattan, Coney Island in Brooklyn and Far Rockaway in Queens. Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator, Craig Fugate, cautioned that Irene is likely to impact well inland. Fugate stated that areas well away from the coasts of North Carolina to New England could expect 5 to 10 inches (13 to 25 centimeters) of rain and tropical storm-force winds. Long-term forecasts are subject to potentially large errors in both track and intensity and any deviation in Irene’s forecast path could significantly change the potential landfall point, with the NHC cone of uncertainty now including all coastal U.S. states north of the Carolinas. AIR Worldwide (AIR) currently estimates that around USD2.4 billion of insured exposure is located in New York’s coastal counties alone, according to reports.
Irene has already caused significant damage in the Bahamas after it became only the third storm since 1866 to cross the entire length of the island chain, from the southeast to the northwest. Although the capital of Nassau was only affected by tropical storm conditions, extensive damage has been reported elsewhere as the storm left a trail of destruction. Reports said wind gusts of up to 150 mph (240 kmph) damaged properties, downed trees and power lines and caused widespread power cuts in the Bahamas. Officials said communities on Acklins and Crooked islands were devastated, with an estimated 90 percent of the homes in two settlements severely damaged or destroyed. Authorities are also expecting major damage on the islands of Rum Cay, Eleuthera and Cat Island, according to reports. AIR said significant roof damage is likely to buildings subjected to category 3 hurricane wind speeds. It added that business interruption losses may also be significant given the large number of hotels across the Bahamas. Although the full extent of damage has yet to be assessed, there have been no immediate reports of major injuries or deaths in the area. Irene’s damaging winds and heavy rain also hit the Turks and Caicos Islands. Officials reported widespread damage as the severe weather ripped roofs off properties, flooded roads and downed power lines.
Sources: National Hurricane Center, WSI, Associated Press, Reuters News, Agence France Presse, AIR Worldwide, EQECAT, BBC News, CNN News, Insurance Day
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