Hurricane Irene is currently located approximately 300 miles (480 kilometers) south-southwest of Cape Hatteras in North Carolina, according to the National Hurricane Center (NHC). The storm has weakened slightly over the last 12 hours and now has sustained winds of around 100 mph (155 kmph), equivalent to a category 2 hurricane. Little change in strength is forecast and the NHC expects Irene will approach the North Carolina coast as a category 2 hurricane. Irene is currently traveling in a northerly direction and a gradual turn to the north-northeast is expected tomorrow. On this forecast track, Irene will pass well offshore of Florida’s east coast today. The storm is then expected to approach North Carolina tonight and pass near or over the state’s coast tomorrow before heading towards northeastern regions of the United States. The NHC said Irene is now a very large hurricane, with hurricane force winds extending 90 miles (150 kilometers) from the center of the storm and tropical storm force winds extending 290 miles (465 kilometers).
A hurricane warning is in effect from North Carolina’s coast, northward to Sandy Hook in New Jersey. A hurricane watch has also been issued for areas north of Sandy Hook, including New York City, Long Island, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, Massachusetts. The hurricane warning for the Bahamas has been discontinued. Watches and warnings will likely be extended further north into New England this afternoon. Hurricane force winds are expected to start affecting parts of the U.S. coast tonight and tomorrow. The NHC said Irene is expected bring up to 15 inches (380 millimeters) of rain from eastern North Carolina all the way up to Massachusetts over the next several days. Storm surge warnings have also been issued, with the NHC warning of surges up to 11 feet (3.5 meters) above ground level in parts of North Carolina. The NHC added that the surge will be accompanied by large, destructive and dangerous waves. Surfs swells generated by Irene are already affecting parts of the southeastern United States, generating life threatening surf and rip current conditions.
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On its current path, the NHC said Irene is expected to pass well to the east of Florida’s coast today (meaning tropical storm conditions are unlikely to be felt in the state). The latest NHC forecast remains consistent with this morning’s update and continues to show Irene passing well to the east of Florida and Georgia before hitting the extreme North Carolina coast as a category 2 hurricane (with maximum sustained winds of up to 110 mph) at around 18:00 UTC on August 27. According to EQECAT, the risks from a North Carolina landfall include storm surge at the coast, inland flooding from 6-12 inches (150-300 millimeters) of rainfall and hurricane force winds along the coast extending to Norfolk, Virginia. Irene is expected to gradually weaken after passing North Carolina due to increased wind shear and cooler waters in the higher latitudes. The extended NHC forecast shows Irene skirting the northeast coastline after passing North Carolina, before making a second landfall in Long Island, New York on August 28. The states of Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Vermont are also in the vicinity of Irene’s projected path, meaning the major cities of New York, Philadelphia, Washington D.C. and Boston are projected to be affected by tropical storm conditions.
EQECAT said the current NHC forecast track represents one of the worst-case scenarios, with high coastal winds and severe flooding possible all the way from North Carolina north to New England. Similar notable hurricanes that affected the New York, New Jersey and the New England states were Hurricane Gloria in 1985 and Hurricane Bob in 1991, EQECAT added. There is now a greater certainty of a category 2/3 landfall along the North Carolina coastline this weekend, forecasters said. However, the long term forecast of a possible category 1/2 landfall along northeastern U.S. states is subject to potentially large errors in both track and intensity. Due to Irene’s proximity to the U.S. coastline, any deviation in its forecast path could change its landfall point and intensity, with significant implications for damage and loss.
States of emergency been declared in North Carolina, Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, New Jersey and New York. Mandatory evacuations have also been ordered in parts of North Carolina, Delaware, Maryland and New Jersey. Up to 50 million people could be affected by Irene in the United States, according to reports. North Carolina authorities have expanded evacuation orders to include more than 200,000 resident and tourists in three coastal counties. With the densely populated New York City in Irene’s path, possible evacuations are being considered. New York City mayor, Michael Bloomberg, stated he was prepared to order evacuations from low-lying areas if necessary. 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.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency warned Irene is likely to impact communities well inland. It added that areas well away from the coasts of North Carolina to New England could expect 5 to 10 inches (130 to 250 millimeters) of rain and tropical storm force winds. Amtrak rail services has announced it is cancelling train travel south of Washington D.C. and airlines warned of widespread disruptions to flights over the weekend. Some oil refineries situated along the east coast are also expected to be shut. East coast refineries are located in Virginia, Delaware, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, reports said. They account for 7 percent of the nation’s refining capability, producing more than 19 million gallons of gasoline and diesel a day, according to the Energy Information Administration.
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. Several parts of the island chain were hit by hurricane force winds (with sustained winds of around 115 mph). Accompanying rainfall of 6-12 inches (150-300 millimeters) and a storm surge of up to 11 feet (3.5 meters) also caused significant damage. Although the capital of Nassau was only affected by tropical storm conditions, it was still hit by heavy rainfall and storm surge. Extensive damage has been reported elsewhere in the Bahamas as Irene left a trail of damage on several islands, including Abaco, Acklins, Crooked and Mayaguana. Reports said wind gusts of up to 150 mph (240 kmph) damaged properties, downed trees and power lines and caused power cuts throughout the Bahamas.
Officials said communities on Acklins and Crooked islands were devastated, with an estimated 90 percent of the homes destroyed on the Lovely Bay settlement. Officials also reported dozens of homes destroyed on the islands of Inagua and Mayaguana and authorities said they expect major damage on the islands of Rum Cay, Eleuthera and Cat Island. AIR said significant roof damage is likely to have occurred to non-engineered 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 serious injuries or deaths in the area. Irene’s damaging winds and heavy rain also hit the Turks and Caicos Islands. Officials reported widespread damage here 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, EQEQACT, BBC News, CNN News, Insurance Day
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