Hurricane Irene, the first of the 2011 Atlantic season, continues to grow in strength and ferocity and is now on track to become a Category 4 hurricane. The storm, which is now a Category 2 hurricane, is moving at about 12 mph and is currently north of the Dominican Republic, said National Hurricane Center spokesman Dennis Feltgen in an interview with The Los Angeles Times. Unfortunately, that means “it’s moving into an environment which is very ideal for strengthening. … We expect it to become a Category 4 hurricane as it passes east of central Florida.” The warm ocean waters and very low wind shear are the two key factors driving the hurricane, he said.
Irene’s path has changed slightly from the National Hurricane Center’s 8:00 a.m. advisory. As of 11:00 a.m., Irene is expected to hit the U.S. mainland along the North Carolina coast, heading north into Virginia and up the Chesapeake Bay by Sunday morning. U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Craig Fugate said Tuesday that the entire East Coast should be on alert.
According to the seasonal outlook issued by NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, the Atlantic basin is expected to see an above-normal hurricane season this year. “The United States was fortunate last year. Winds steered most of the season’s tropical storms and all hurricanes away from our coastlines,” said Jane Lubchenco, Ph.D., under-secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator. “However we can’t count on luck to get us through this season. We need to be prepared, especially with this above-normal outlook.”