Though Hurricane Irene has weakened slightly and its projected track has been nudged east just a bit, it's still headed for what could be a devastating collision with the East Coast of the U.S. that will affect tens of millions of people from North Carolina to New England over the weekend.
According to the latest advisory from the National Hurricane Center, Irene is now a Category 2 hurricane (meaning its winds are between 96 and 110 mph). That means it has weakened slightly since this time Thursday, when it was a Category 3.
But, the Hurricane Center warns, "Irene is expected to be near the Category 2/3 boundary when it reaches the vicinity of [North Carolina's] Outer Banks" very early on Saturday. From there, it will head north along the coast and is likely to take "dead aim" on New York City on Sunday. Mayor Michael Bloomberg has said he may order a mandatory evacuation of the city's low-lying areas, including parts of lower Manhattan.
We will be following developments through the weekend.
Update at 7:15 p.m. ET. Useful Links:
We are calling it a night. But Mark will be back bright and early tomorrow and we'll keep you updated through the weekend. NPR.org's main hurricane story will be updated through the night, but here are some helpful links that will keep you up on top of what's happening:
-- Capital Weather Gang: The Washington Post's weather blog offers dispassionate, factual forecasting.
Local news along the path of the hurricane:
-- Jacksonville Daily News has a live blog of all things hurricane.
-- The Virginian Pilot has extensive coverage, including live radar.
-- NPR member station WHYY's Newsworks has coverage of Philadelphia.
-- The Times Of Trenton covers New Jersey.
-- NPR member station WNYC has coverage of New York City.
From the National Hurricane Center:
-- Irene doppler.
-- If you have questions about hurricanes, which one is the biggest, deadliest, costliest, the NHC has answers in this document (pdf).
-- Here's a site with the latest global weather models.
-- StoryfulPro has put together a list of reporters, organizations and government officials in the path of the storm.
If you're a weather nerd, here's a list of storm chasers who provide detailed meteorological information and stunning first hand images and narrative form the eye of the storm :
-- Brett Adair
-- Jason Foster
And let's not forget a link to FEMA's storm preparation guide.
Update at 6:18 p.m. ET. "2,400 Flights Cancelled Ahead Of Hurricane Irene"
Update at 5:50 p.m. ET. Largest Number Of People Threatened By Hurricane:
In its latest story, the AP says local authorities across the United States have ordered the evacuation of 2.3 million people. That's stunning. Jay Baker, a geography professor at Florida State University puts it in context for the AP:
"This is probably the largest number of people that have been threatened by a single hurricane in the United States," he said.
Update at 4:54 p.m. ET. Hurricane Warning Issued For New York:
The Hurricane Center has placed New York City Under a hurricane warning in its latest advisory. The AP reports that this is the first time New York City has been placed under a hurricane warning since 1985, ahead of hurricane Gloria.
As there was earlier, there's some good news and some bad news:
First the good: The Hurricane Center says the inner core of Irene has "eroded." That means they are fairly confident the storm won't intensify before it makes landfall.
The bad: The storm is expected to move very slowly as it approaches Long Island, which means it will "produce extended periods of tropical storm and hurricane-force winds in many areas."
Update at 2:15 p.m. ET. Winds Have Slowed Slightly:
In its latest update, the Hurricane Center says "maximum sustained winds have decreased to near 100 mph," vs. the "near 105 mph" of earlier today. It also now says that after Irene reaches the coast of North Carolina, "some weakening is expected. ... But [it] is expected to remain a hurricane as it moves along the mid-Atlantic coast on Sunday."
Update at 1:55 p.m. ET. New York orders evacuations of low-lying areas:
Mayor Michael Bloomberg just announced that his office has issued a "mandatory evacuation order for all New Yorkers who live in low-lying areas." They're to be out of the areas by 5 p.m. ET Saturday. The mayor's office has posted a pdf of "New York City hurricane evacuation zones" here.
Update at noon ET: "Obama: 'Don't Wait, Don't Delay' If You're In Irene's Path."
Update at 11:30 a.m. ET. Latest Outlook; Bad News And Not-So-Bad News:
In its 11 a.m. ET advisory the Hurricane Center says it has extended the "hurricane warning" for the Chesapeake Bay north about 30 miles. Earlier, the warning area went as far as Smith Point. Now it goes to Drum Point.
But the Center's guidance is also slightly less ominous in one way.
At 8 a.m. ET it wrote that "Irene is a Category 2 hurricane ... some re-intensification is possible today ... and Irene is expected to be near the threshold between Category 2 and 3 as it reaches the North Carolina coast."
At 11 a.m. ET, it wrote that "Irene is a Category 2 hurricane ... [and] little change in strength is forecast before Irene reaches the coast of North Carolina."
The differences between categories are outlined here. Category 2 hurricanes have maximum sustained winds of 96-110 mph. Category 3 hurricanes have maximum sustained winds of 111-130 mph.
As of 11 a.m. ET, Irene's winds were maxing out at 105 mph.
Update at 9:40 a.m. ET. Rain Is Falling On The Carolinas.
"Hurricane Irene's rains began reaching the U.S. East Coast on Friday. ... Rain began falling along the coasts of North and South Carolina as Irene trudged toward the coast from the Bahamas.
"Swells from the hurricane and 6 to 9-foot waves were showing up in North Carolina's Outer Banks early Friday and winds were expected to begin picking up later in the day, said Hal Austin, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service."
Update at 9:10 a.m. ET. "Dangerous" Storm Surges Expected.
From the latest Hurricane Center advisory:
"An extremely dangerous storm surge will raise water levels by as much as 6 to 11 feet above ground level in the hurricane warning area in North Carolina ... including the Albemarle and Pamlico sounds. Storm surge will raise water levels as much as 4 to 8 feet above ground level over southern portions of the Chesapeake Bay ... including tributaries ... and the eastern shore of the Delmarva peninsula. Storm surge will raise water levels by as much as 3 to 6 feet above ground level along the Jersey shore. ... The surge will be accompanied by large ... destructive ... and life-threatening waves."