Hurricane Irene will pick up strength as it moves toward the Bahamas on a path that may take it to South Carolina by week’s end and to the Northeast next week, forecasters said.
Irene, with maximum winds of 80 miles (129 kilometers) per hour, up from 75 earlier today, was about 150 miles west- northwest of San Juan, Puerto Rico, as of 2 p.m. East Coast time and moving west-northwest at 12 mph, according to an advisory from the Miami-based National Hurricane Center.
“I don’t see any roadblocks to intensification over the next four or five days,” said Jeff Masters, co-founder of Weather Underground Inc. in Ann Arbor, Michigan. “The ocean temperatures are 1 to 1.5 degrees warmer than average this year. Climatologically, conditions are conducive for strong hurricanes tracking far to the north this year.”
The current track forecast predicts Irene will hug the eastern Florida coast and hit South Carolina on Aug. 27 as at least a Category 3 hurricane, which is considered a major storm. The last major storm to strike the U.S. was Hurricane Wilma in 2005. With winds of at least 111 mph, “devastating damage will occur” at landfall, according to the center.
Tracks have an error rate of 250 miles five days out and 200 miles four days out, said Masters, who began his career flying on National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration hurricane reconnaissance planes. One such plane will investigate Irene later and the results should improve the computer model error rate by 20 percent, he said.
There is a chance Irene may pass over Long Island next week as a strong tropical storm, Masters said.
“The storm is not likely to stop in the Carolinas,” meteorologist Alex Sosnowski wrote on AccuWeather Inc.’s website. “It is very possible strong tropical storm or even hurricane conditions will continue to spread up the Atlantic Seaboard.”
Earlier today, forecasters thought the storm was heading to Florida. However, as they receive more information “the current guidance lessens the threat to south Florida,” according to the hurricane center.
The storm probably won’t enter the Gulf of Mexico, home to 31 percent of U.S. oil output and 7 percent of natural gas.
Gulf Threat Eased
“It looks like most of the models are looking somewhere along the East Coast from Florida up to North Carolina,” said Travis Hartman, meteorologist with MDA EarthSat Weather in Gaithersburg, Maryland. “As far as energy purposes, it looks like the Gulf is going to get away from this one.”
The center expects the hurricane to pass just north of Hispaniola, home to Haiti and the Dominican Republic, later today. Irene will veer northward over the next few days, taking it across the Bahamas by Aug. 25 and to the east coast of Florida the next day, the center said.
American Airlines and its American Eagle regional carrier, along with JetBlue Airways Corp. and US Airways Group Inc., canceled a total of 124 flights today between the U.S. and the Caribbean, as well as among the islands themselves, according to spokesmen for the companies.
Florida’s orange crop is vulnerable to tropical weather if the area is exposed to strong winds. Orange-juice prices have climbed 20 percent from a year earlier as frost and dry weather hurt the Florida crop. Futures for November delivery closed at $1.6415 a pound on ICE Futures U.S. in New York last week.
“It’s a bit of a wait-and-see at this point in time. We need to get a couple days nearer to see what the damage is going to be” to the crop, Jim Dale, senior risk meteorologist at British Weather Services at High Wycombe, England, said in a telephone interview.
A tropical storm warning in Puerto Rico has been dropped. Hurricane warnings have been issued for the north coast of the Dominican Republic and the southwest Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands, while watches are in force for the north coast of Haiti. Warnings are issued for areas where hurricane-force winds are expected within 36 hours and a watch is issued when there is a possibility of hurricane-force winds within 48.
Hurricane-force winds extend outward for 30 miles from Irene’s core, twice as far as earlier today, and tropical-storm- force winds extend for 185 miles, the center said in its advisory.
The storm may drop 5 to 10 inches (13 to 26 centimeters) of rain across the southeastern Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos islands, with lesser amounts elsewhere, the hurricane center said.
A storm becomes a hurricane when winds hit 74 mph. The last hurricane to hit the U.S. was Ike in 2008, which was a Category 2 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale when it went ashore near Galveston, Texas.
--With assistance from Conor Sullivan in London and Mary Schlangenstein in Dallas. Editors: Charlotte Porter, David Marino
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