Weather

Forecasts push Hurricane Irene farther east

Posted August 23, 2011 6:39 a.m. EDT
Updated August 23, 2011 11:03 p.m. EDT

— Forecast tracks are shifting Hurricane Irene further east, meaning it may not hit North Carolina or anywhere along the East Coast, according to WRAL Chief Meteorologist Greg Fishel. However, it's still too early to tell with any certainty.

"It’s still four days away. We don’t want to write anything off at this particular point in time," he said. "Right now, it looks like this storm is not going to take dead aim on central North Carolina. It may be more of a coastal phenomenon."

Forecasters expect Irene to be a Category 3 storm with winds of more than 111 mph before it's predicted to come near North Carolina.

Gov. Bev Perdue will hold a news conference at 9:45 a.m. Wednesday to update the public on the hurricane. Watch it LIVE on WRAL.com.

Perdue spoke to the media Tuesday and said the state is prepared but is in wait-and-see mode to figure out what the storm will do.

"It's really, really early," she said. "The bottom line is none of us know."

Perdue also said this hurricane has special significance for her.

"Now, let me talk to you about this hurricane, Hurricane Irene. I want you to know it’s my mama’s name, so I take this one personal. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, if she’s trying to punish us or reward us," Perdue said.

By midday Tuesday, Irene had maximum sustained winds of about 100 mph and was centered about 50 miles northeast of Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic and moving west-northwest at 12 mph.

Earlier government forecast models showed the storm's outer bands sweeping Florida late this week, but recent forecast models have the storm shifting further east. Some models have Irene not making landfall in North Carolina. 

“With each run of the forecast track, computer models take it further east,” WRAL meteorologist Elizabeth Gardner said. 

Forecasters caution that predictions made days in advance can be off by hundreds of miles.

"We're talking about a very serious situation late Saturday and into Sunday across North Carolina," Gardner said. 

If it hits North Carolina, severe winds, flooding and a coastal storm surge are likely.

"We are trying to make a plan for anything at this point," Mike Sprayberry, deputy director of the North Carolina Division of Emergency Management, said Monday.

State crews were making sure emergency equipment is in running order and checking on food and water supplies that might be distributed to evacuees or people in hard-hit areas.

Authorities on Ocracoke Island have issued a mandatory evacuation order for visitors to leave starting at 5 a.m. Wednesday.

Officials said Tuesday that a mandatory evacuation order for all non-emergency personnel will go into effect Thursday morning for the barrier island, which is only accessible by boat. The island is 16 miles long and mostly undeveloped, with a town at the southern tip.

Hurricane Irene slashed directly across Puerto Rico Monday, tearing up trees and knocking out power to more than a million people. It then headed out to sea, north of the Dominican Republic, where the powerful storm's outer bands were buffeting the north coast with dangerous sea surge and downpours. President Barack Obama declared an emergency for Puerto Rico, making it eligible for federal help.

Irene was forecast to pass over or near the Turks and Caicos Islands and the southeastern Bahamas by Tuesday night and be near the central Bahamas early Wednesday.

The storm could become the first hurricane to make landfall in North Carolina since Hurricane Isabel, which killed 33 people and caused $1.6 billion in damage in September 2003. The most recent hurricane to make landfall in the United States was Ike, which pounded Texas in 2008.

Florida last saw a major hurricane in October 2005, when Wilma killed five people.

South Carolina hasn't been hit by hurricane in seven years, and Georgia hasn't taken a direct hit from a major hurricane in more than a century, since 1893. Most recently, Hurricane David made landfall along Georgia in 1979, causing minor damage.

Other recent storms have caused significant damage in North Carolina after making landfall elsewhere.

Hurricanes Frances and Ivan tracked through western counties in 2004, causing mudslides and an estimated $44 million in damages. Other recent storms that left a lasting impression include Fran in 1996, Floyd in 1999 and Hugo in 1989, which made landfall in Isle of Palms, S.C., and tracked through Charlotte.

N.C.'s most destructive hurricanes

Blue = tropical storm

Yellow = category 1

Orange = category 2

Red = category 3