Hurricane Irene "continues to strengthen as it pounds the southeastern Bahamas," the National Hurricane Center reports, and "will likely become a major hurricane later today."
Update at 5:09 p.m. ET. A More Intense Hurricane; Track Moves West:
In its 5 p.m. advisory, the Hurricane Center says Irene is still a category 3 hurricane with maximum sustained winds at 120 mph. The highlight of the advisory is that computer models have moved the forecast a bit to the west, which is not good news for the Eastern Seaboard.
Keep in mind that forecasts always have what's come to be known as "a cone of uncertainty," which means that by 2 p.m. Saturday the hurricane could be bearing down on North Carolina or it could be out to sea.
Either way, the Hurricane center recommends that everyone from the Carolinas to New England keep a close eye on the system.
As with many Atlantic hurricanes, the uncertainty in the forecast has to do with the location of a mid-latitude trough that's currently moving through the Great Lakes region. Where that is and how strong it is as the storm approaches will determine when the hurricane makes a turn for the northeast. If it makes it later it affects the U.S. much more than if it makes it earlier.
Some of the latest computer models have shifted that track to the west a bit, causing the Hurricane Center to move its five-day forecast a bit that way too. Here's a map of the Hurricane Center's three-day forecast:
Our original post continues:
The Weather Channel says the hurricane "has the potential to be a serious and multi-hazard threat [this weekend and into next week] for the major metropolitan areas of the Northeast along and east of the I-95 corridor. This includes New York City. This hurricane has the potential to produce flooding rains, high winds, downed trees (on houses, cars, power lines) and widespread power outages."
From Raleigh, N.C., the News Observer reports that "even if the center remains offshore, heavy surf and rip currents will likely begin to churn the North Carolina coast Friday, said Nick Petro, warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service's Raleigh office. Coastal flooding will be possible over the weekend, particularly on the north side of the storm." Evacuations have begun on North Carolina's Ocracoke Island.
The Virginian-Pilot says that in the area around Hampton Roads, Va., "people stocked up on food, boarded windows and gassed up their cars Tuesday as Hurricane Irene threatened to become the most powerful storm to hit the East Coast in seven years."