US east coast braced for arrival of Irene

Wednesday 24th Aug 2011 by theWeather Club

The entire US east coast has been warned to get ready for the possible arrival of Hurricane Irene. The Category 2 storm has already battered parts of the Caribbean, and US forecasters say it may intensify to Category 4 status as it nears the US coast. The hurricane is on a projected path to reach the US by the end of the week, possibly making landfall in Georgia, South Carolina or North Carolina. Forecasters have cautioned that it is too early as yet to predict the storm's exact path or place of impact.

Irene brought heavy downpours as it swept over the Dominican Republic, where 1,000 people sought refuge in shelters. President Barack Obama declared an emergency in Puerto Rico after the storm knocked out power to more than half the island and affected the water supplies of more than 100,000 people. The emergency designation makes the territory eligible for state aid.

Irene - the first hurricane of the Atlantic season - currently has maximum sustained winds of 160km/h. But if it increases to a Category 4 storm it could reach speeds of 210km/h.

“Irene is forecast to become a larger-than-average hurricane,” the US National Hurricane Centre (NHC) in Miami said.

The NHC warned there is also an extremely dangerous storm surge that could raise water levels by as much as 3-4m on the low-lying islands. They continued that any further strengthening was likely to occur in the next 72 hours as it moved over warm sea waters. “We didn't anticipate it gaining this much strength this early,” meteorologist Chris Landsea told reporters.

The arrival of the season’s first hurricane has spread concern through the region, as some already vulnerable areas lie in its potential path. Emergency preparations were stepped up in Haiti by United Nations agencies operating there. The country, which suffers from extensive deforestation and poor infrastructure, is particularly vulnerable to heavy rainfall, and hundreds of thousands of people still live in makeshift camps after the January 2010 earthquake. In the Turks and Caicos Islands, people have been trying to reinforce windows and doors, as well as stocking up on supplies. On Grand Turk, where Hurricane Ike caused devastation in September 2008, resident Peter White said he was taking no chances. “We've loaded up on water and rations, and our shutters are ready to go up,” he said. “Bad memories of Ike are a big reason why we get so prepared now.”