Hurricane Irene weakens slightly as it marches toward North Carolina

August 26th, 2011 - 7:19 pm ICT by BNO News  

MIAMI (BNO NEWS) — Hurricane Irene weakened slightly on early Friday morning as it marched toward North Carolina, forecasters said, while further hurricane warnings have been issued for the U.S. East Coast.

Irene formed east of the Leeward Islands last week and since then moved through the Caribbean as it strengthened into a category three storm. It is currently west of Florida and heading towards North Carolina, where hundreds of thousands of people are being evacuated.

As of 5 a.m. EDT (0900 GMT) on Friday, the center of Irene was located about 420 miles (675 kilometers) south-southwest of Cape Hatteras, a cape on the coast of North Carolina. It is moving toward the north at a speed near 14 miles (22 kilometers) per hour.

“Reports from an Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunter Aircraft indicate that the intensity of Irene is not quite at major hurricane status,” said Jack Beven, a senior hurricane specialist at the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC). Maximum winds of Irene are now at 110 miles (175 kilometers) per hour, with higher gusts, making it a category two hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale of intensity.

“Water vapor imagery and analyses from [Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies (CIMSS)] at the University of Wisconsin suggest that Irene is encountering light to moderate southwesterly vertical wind shear,” Beven said. “This, along with the current cyclone structure and dry air advecting toward the hurricane in water vapor imagery, argue against significant strengthening, and indeed the intensity guidance shows little change in strength before landfall.”

However, Beven explained it is still possible that there will still be some strengthening. “The eyewall convection is currently strong, and the sea surface temperatures along the forecast track are 28 to 29 Celsius (82.4 to 84.2 degrees Fahrenheit),” he said. “This suggest some modest strengthening is possible.”

Irene is currently forecast to make landfall along the North Carolina Outer Banks on early Saturday morning as a strong category two or weak category three hurricane, after which it will slowly weaken. “After moving into New England, Irene should weaken quickly as it undergoes extratropical transition,” Beven added.

As Irene is closing in on North Carolina, hurricane warnings are now in effect for Little River Inlet in North Carolina northward to Sandy Hook in New Jersey, including the Pamlico, Albemarle, and Currituck Sounds, Delaware Bay, and Chesapeake Bay south of Smith Point. A hurricane warning also remains in effect for the Grand Bahama and the Abaco Islands in the Bahamas.

In addition, a hurricane watch is in effect for north of Sandy Hook to the mouth of the Merrimack River, including Long Island, Long Island Sound, Block Island, Marthas Vineyard, and Nantucket. A tropical storm warning is in effect for north of Edisto Beach in South Carolina to Little River Inlet, as well as Chesapeake Bay from Smith Point northward and the Tidal Potomac.

Irene is the ninth named storm and the first hurricane of the 2011 Atlantic hurricane season. It was followed by Tropical Depression Ten which remains active in the far eastern Atlantic, but poses no threat to land.

According to figures released earlier this month, NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center is expecting an above-normal hurricane season in the Atlantic this year. The outlook calls for 14 to 19 named storms, with seven to ten becoming hurricanes and three to five expected to become a major hurricane (category 3 or higher).

An average Atlantic hurricane season produces 11 named storms, with six becoming hurricanes and two becoming major hurricanes. The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 through November 30, with peak activity in September.

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