Hurricane Irene has "roared across the Bahamas archipelago" and remains on track to hit the coast of North Carolina on Saturday and then soak much of the Eastern seaboard over the weekend and into next week as it chugs north.
The latest advisory from the National Hurricane Center says Irene's "maximum sustained winds are near 115 mph," meaning it's still a dangerous Category 3 hurricane. The center warns that some strengthening is expected today and tonight, which means she could turn into an even more ominous Category 4 storm before reaching the coast of the U.S.
According to the system for categorizing hurricanes, a Category 4 hurricane has winds of 131 to 155 mph.
The Hurricane Center has issued a "hurricane watch" for the North Carolina coast, which means:
"Hurricane conditions (sustained winds of 74 mph or higher) are possible within the specified coastal area. Because hurricane preparedness activities become difficult once winds reach tropical storm force, the hurricane watch is issued 48 hours in advance of the anticipated onset of tropical-storm-force winds."
As The Virginian-Pilot writes, "the watch extends north from Surf City to the North Carolina border with Virginia and includes the Pamilico, Albemarle and Currituck Sounds. The storm, with maximum sustained winds of 115 mph, was located 735 miles south of Cape Hatteras and was moving northwest at 12 mph."
The Hurricane Center's projection has Irene making landfall along the North Carolina coast sometime around midday Saturday — though its effects will be felt well before then. Evacuations have been underway since Wednesday.
Just a short time ago, The Associated Press reported that the U.S. Navy has ordered ships of the Second Fleet to leave the Norfolk (Va.) Naval Station and head out to sea where they can better weather the storm.