Weather

Hurricane Irene's route not set in stone

Posted August 22, 2011 5:52 a.m. EDT
Updated August 22, 2011 10:52 p.m. EDT

— North Carolina emergency management officials were updating hurricanes plans on Monday in preparation for the possible effects of Hurricane Irene, which could become a Category 3 storm before some forecast models show it clipping the state on Saturday. 

State emergency officials were checking "pre-landfall operations" to make sure equipment such as trucks, forklifts, generators and computers were working, said Ernie Seneca, spokesman for the state Department of Crime Control and Public Safety. Also, they were taking inventory of food and water supplies "in case it comes to that point where we have to provide that to people who suffer losses or have to be evacuated," he said.

“We are too far out to really look at the prediction with very much reliability," said Mike Sprayberry, deputy director of the North Carolina Division of Emergency Management. "We are trying to make a plan for anything at this point.”

The U.S. National Hurricane Center said that Irene has maximum sustained winds of 100 mph and was moving about 10 mph. It was upgraded to a Category 2 hurricane Monday evening.

The storm could grow into a Category 3 hurricane, with winds of 115 mph, over the Bahamas on Thursday. It might carry that force northwest along Florida's Atlantic coast and toward a possible strike on South Carolina, though the forecasters warned that, by the weekend, the storm's path could vary significantly from the current projection.

If it hits North Carolina, Sprayberry said, severe winds, riverine flooding or a coastal storm surge are likely.

WRAL Chief Meteorologist Greg Fishel said while the potential for the storm to affect North Carolina is there, there is no need to panic.

"It could stay off shore and never make landfall, that is a distinct possibility," Fishel said. "There is still so much uncertainty that to hang your hat on one solution is simply ridiculous at this point in time." 

Irene cut power to more than a million people in Puerto Rico, downing trees and flooding streets on Monday. 

The strengthening storm was headed for Hispaniola, the island shared by the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Nearly 600,000 people in Haiti still live without shelter after last year's earthquake. The center of the hurricane was expected to miss Haiti. 

The hurricane is expected to pass near or over the Turks and Caicos Islands and the southeastern Bahamas on Tuesday.

Irene is the first hurricane of the Atlantic hurricane season.

The last storm to make landfall in North Carolina was Hurricane Isabel, which killed 33 people and caused $1.6 billion in damage in September 2003. Other recent storms have caused significant damage in North Carolina, including Frances and Ivan, which tracked through western North Carolina in 2004, causing mudslides and an estimated $44 million in damages. Other recent storms that left a lasting impression on the state include Fran in 1996, Floyd in 1999 and Hugo in 1989, which made landfall in Isle of Palms, S.C., and tracked through Charlotte.