Hurricane Irene grew into a Category 2 storm that is forecast to strengthen as it moves toward the Bahamas and possibly the Carolinas and U.S. Northeast.
Irene’s maximum sustained winds were 100 miles (160 kilometers) per hour, up from 80 mph yesterday. It may become a major hurricane later today or early tomorrow, according to a National Hurricane Center advisory at 5 a.m. New York time.
“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.”
Losses from Irene in Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas may total $2.2 billion and cost insurers $1.2 billion, according to an initial estimate by Kinetic Analysis Corp., a risk-modeling firm in Silver Spring, Maryland. The hurricane’s current projected path brings it ashore near the North Carolina-South Carolina border late on Aug. 27 or early Aug. 28.
The Miami-based NHC says predictions of where a hurricane may strike land are often inaccurate. The five-year average of errors for a four-day prediction is 200 miles, and for a five- day forecast, it is 250 miles.
“All of the ingredients are conducive for Irene to intensify over the next few days,” according to a hurricane center forecast analysis prepared by Lixion Avila, a senior hurricane specialist at the NHC. The computer models “insist on making Irene a large and strong hurricane.”
There is a chance Irene may pass over Long Island next week as a strong tropical storm, said Masters, who began his career flying on National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration hurricane reconnaissance planes. One such plane investigated Irene late yesterday and that mission should improve the computer model error rate by 20 percent.
New York City has been tracking the storm since it first appeared off Africa last week, said Chris Gilbride, a spokesman for the Office of Emergency Management.
It probably would be a “heavy rain event,” not a hurricane, if it reaches New York, he 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.”
The storm, moving west-northwest at 12 mph and presently about 50 miles northeast of Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic, probably won’t enter the Gulf of Mexico, home to 31 percent of U.S. oil output and 7 percent of natural gas.
“As far as energy purposes, it looks like the Gulf is going to get away from this one,” said Travis Hartman, a meteorologist with MDA EarthSat Weather in Gaithersburg, Maryland.
The hurricane center expects Irene to pass north of the Dominican Republic and Haiti today and be near or over the Turks and Caicos Islands and the southeastern Bahamas by tonight, the center said. Irene is likely to reach the central Bahamas early tomorrow.
Hurricane warnings have been issued for the north coast of the Dominican Republic, the southeastern and central Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands, while watches are in force for the north coast of Haiti and the northwestern Bahamas. 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 50 miles from Irene’s core, up from 15 miles yesterday, and tropical-storm- force winds extend for 205 miles, the center said in its advisory.
The storm may drop 5 to 10 inches (13 to 26 centimeters) of rain across the southeastern and central Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos islands, with lesser amounts elsewhere from Puerto Rico to the Dominican Republic, the center said.
A storm becomes a hurricane when winds reach 74 mph. The last hurricane to strike 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. The last major hurricane, with winds of at least 111 mph, to hit was Hurricane Wilma in 2005.
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