Hurricane Irene To Hit Carolinas

Hurricane Irene hit Puerto Rico with flooding rains and high winds Sunday night, then it started off on a course that might mean the storm misses the Hispaniola mountains and becomes a stronger system when it approaches the U.S. southeastern coast and the Carolinas later this week.

The official forecast calls for Hurricane Irene to have winds up to 120 mph by the time it makes landfall this weekend.

The current track puts the hurricane coming ashore in the Savannah, Ga., area but all coastal areas from Florida to the North Carolina Outer Banks are within the storm’s possible landfall range.

Many computer-generated forecasts show Irene crossing inland across the Carolinas and possibly bringing severe weather to the Charlotte region this weekend. It could slam into the Carolinas by Friday, bringing widespread flooding, downed trees and power lines, and possibly forcing coastal evacuations.

Stormwatchers grew more concerned over the weekend as Hurricane Irene changed course slightly and appears to be on a path that will not cross but simply skirt around the mountains of the Dominican Republic. That will lessen the land’s impact on the hurricane. Irene has already defied conventional wisdom by becoming stronger even when moving over land, which it did as it raged over Puerto Rico with winds up to 75 mph.

Puerto Rico reported widespread storm damage but no deaths.

Hurricane Irene should strengthen as it heads out over the warm water.

Irene was a tropical storm when it moved over the U.S. Virgin Islands but strengthened to a hurricane just before daybreak on Monday. The National Hurricane Center projected Irene would be a Category 3 hurricane by Thursday and could land in South Carolina moving inland up through North Carolina or could go eastward and land at or brush the North Carolina coast.

Carolinas emergency management officials have just begun preparations for Hurricane Irene.

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