Entries in National Hurrican Center (1)


Hurricane Irene: Could Be Category 4 by Thursday

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(MIAMI) -- Hurricane Irene's fury is growing, and the National Hurricane Center warned Wednesday that the storm could be upgraded from its current level of Category 3 to a more ominous Category 4 by Thursday.

The core of the hurricane is expected to move across the southeastern and central Bahamas Wednesday night, with maximum winds near 120 mph.

As the storm clears the island and continues over the warm water of the Atlantic, its wind speed is expected to strengthen and the size of the storm could increase, the Hurricane Center predicted.

"Warm water is essentially like their fuel. It helps them strengthen and it's got plenty of that ahead of it, at least in the next few days," said John Cangialosi, a hurricane specialist at the National Hurricane Center.

The threshold for a category 4 is wind speeds of at least 131 mph.

Forecasters predict Irene could hit the Outer Banks of North Carolina on Saturday, move up to the mid-Atlantic region including Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey late Saturday or early Sunday, and hit New England late Sunday.

The storm is shaping up to be the most powerful hurricane to strike the East Coast in years and thousands of people in Ocracoke Island, N.C., have been ordered to evacuate as the storm bore down on the fragile islands of North Carolina's Outer Banks. The island is reachable only by ferry.

Cangialosi also said that hurricanes fluctuate in strength and size, so two days of strengthening could be followed by weakening as the storm moves north.

"It loses strength considerably when it tracks over cooler water," he said. "For the next couple of days, the general theme is that it will probably continue to strengthen."

An updated bulletin from the National Hurricane Center said that the "extremely dangerous" storm will raise water levels by as much as seven to eleven feet above normal tide levels in the Bahamas, potentially causing "life-threatening flash floods and mud slides in areas of steep terrain" as well as "life-threatening surf and rip current conditions."

Hurricane Irene went from a Category 2 to Category 3 from Tuesday night to Wednesday morning after ripping street signs out of the ground in the Turks and Caicos and destroying buildings in the Dominican Republic.

Craig Fugate, the manager of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, urged those from the Mid-Atlantic region to New England to start preparing now for the possibility of the hurricane's landfall.

Fugate referenced Tuesday's surprise 5.8 magnitude earthquake to urge those living in the Northeast to prepare.

"It's again a reminder that we don't always get to pick the next disaster," Fugate said. "We know this hurricane is coming this way. We just don't know where it's going to hit or how bad it will get. So take time now to get ready."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio