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Hurricane Irene Weakens on Course to North Carolina Landfall

Hurricane Irene Weakens on Course to North Carolina Landfall
The NHC said hurricane-force winds extend 90 miles from Irene’s core and that dangerous surf, storm surge and wind conditions will develop. Photographer: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Hurricane Irene, downgraded to a Category 2 storm, moved north at 14 miles (22 kilometers) per hour toward the coast of North Carolina, posing the largest threat to the U.S. Northeast since Hurricane Gloria in 1985.

Irene is packing maximum sustained winds of 110 mph, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said in an advisory at 8 a.m. Miami time. The storm may grow anew to a Category 3 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale tomorrow, the center said.

The center’s forecast track shows the storm will make landfall in North Carolina’s Outer Banks tomorrow, skirt the East Coast and reach New England on Aug. 28. The NHC said hurricane-force winds extend 90 miles from Irene’s core and that dangerous surf, storm surge and wind conditions will develop.

The system’s move closer to the Eastern Seaboard may be good news for New York and the Northeast, said Arthur DeGaetano, professor of earth and atmospheric sciences at Cornell University. “It is going to hug the coast and that is going to take a lot of punch out of the storm,” he said.

Hurricane warnings were in effect from North Carolina’s Little River inlet north to the Sandy Hook area of New Jersey, meaning hurricane conditions are expected within the area.

New York Watch

Hurricane watches were also extended north along the East Coast from Sandy Hook to the Merrimack River, including New York City, Long Island, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, the NHC said. A watch was already in effect from the North Carolina-Virginia border to the south Jersey shore. A watch means that hurricane conditions are possible within the area.

That means more than 65 million people, or about one in five Americans, from North Carolina to Maine may be in the way of the hurricane, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Irene is currently about 375 miles south-southwest of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, the hurricane center said. The storm moving away from the Bahamas is now aiming “its fury toward the North Carolina coast,” it said in an earlier statement.

President Barack Obama signed a federal emergency declaration for North Carolina, authorizing the Homeland Security Department and Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate disaster response and mobilize resources. The governors of New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Connecticut and Virginia declared emergencies while officials in Virginia Beach and Norfolk, Virginia, ordered mandatory evacuations.

Heavy Rainfall

Gasoline advanced to the most in more than three weeks yesterday on speculation that Irene may disrupt East Coast refinery production and fuel distribution. Futures rose 3.1 percent to $2.9679 a gallon the previous session and fell 0.6 percent today to $2.9499 at 1:11 p.m. London time on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Irene could produce rainfall of six to 10 inches to perhaps as much as 15 inches in isolated cases from eastern North Carolina to southeast Virginia and along the Eastern Seaboard from Delaware and New Jersey to southeastern New York, Long Island and western Massachusetts by Aug. 29, the NHC said.

Storm surge from Irene may raise water levels by as much as 6 to 11 feet in parts of eastern North Carolina, 4 to 8 feet over southern portions of the Chesepeake Bay and Delmarva Peninsula and 3 to 6 feet above ground level along the Jersey shore, the NHC said.

In Delaware, Governor Jack Markell told potential visitors to stay away from his state this weekend. Amtrak canceled most train services south of Washington today through Aug. 28, according to a statement.

New York Decision

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said a decision on evacuations would be made by 8 a.m. tomorrow for residents in areas including Coney Island, Battery Park City and parts of Staten Island. The mayor is founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.

The storm’s track ultimately depends on a weather front moving into the Northeast from the west as Irene approaches from the south, DeGaetano said.

Irene is paralleling the path of Hurricane Gloria, which killed 11 people after making landfall in New York’s Long Island in 1985. The last hurricane to strike the U.S. was Ike in 2008, a Category 2 storm when it went ashore near Galveston, Texas.

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