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‘Ridiculous’ Winds From Hurricane Irene Bear Down on East Coast

August 24, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT
The Bahamas braced for the arrival of Hurricane Irene as the storm intensified to Category 3 status with winds topping 120 mph. Jeffrey Brown discusses the hurricane, which is expected to reach the East Coast of the United States in the next few days, with AccuWeather.com's Jim Kosek.
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JEFFREY BROWN: And to the coming of Hurricane Irene. The storm bulked up today and headed toward the U.S. mainland.

Palm trees still whipped in the wind and rain today, and waves battered white sand beaches, after Irene marched through the Turks and Caicos Islands chain overnight. Flooding from the storm displaced hundreds of people in the Dominican Republic. And even though Cuba was out of the direct path, the storm sent waves crashing over a seawall in Baracoa.

Today, the Bahamas braced for the effects, as the season’s first Atlantic hurricane reached Category 3 status, with winds topping 120 miles an hour. Next in Irene’s sights after the islands of the Caribbean, the Eastern Seaboard of the U.S., especially the North Carolina coast, where people were already stocking up on emergency supplies.

MAN: Last time we had an outage, the tornado, we had no radio. So we thought now’s the time to make sure we do.

JEFFREY BROWN: Along with year-round residents, large numbers of late-summer visitors from around the country were at the Carolina beaches this week. Some were forced to leave by ferry from Ocracoke, after a mandatory evacuation was ordered for everyone on the tiny barrier island along the Outer Banks.

MAN: It’s a low-lying island, and if it’s a bad storm that hits directly, it won’t take much of an elevation of sea level to create a lot of havoc over there. There aren’t many high spots on Ocracoke Island.

JEFFREY BROWN: North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue warned people not to take Irene lightly.

GOV. BEVERLY PERDUE, D-N.C.: We know she — at this point in time, Hurricane Irene is a big storm — 115 mile-an-hour wind is a big wind. Get your evacuation kit ready. Get your medicines ready. Take your insurance documents and have a plan to get out if you have to. Treat this seriously. But then pray real hard that North Carolina will be fine.

JEFFREY BROWN: Farther north, New Englanders were prepping for the storm’s possible arrival in a few more days, including at Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., where President Obama was vacationing. A spokesman said he’s getting updates from Craig Fugate, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

JOSH EARNEST, White House deputy press secretary: This is somebody that is a legitimate expert on these issues. These kinds of logistical issues are an important part of that effort. That’s why we’re so closely — in such close communication and consultation with state and local officials up and down the Eastern Seaboard.

JEFFREY BROWN: Irene has already dumped heavy rain on Puerto Rico. And more than a million people there lost electrical power as the storm hit. President Obama declared a state of emergency for the U.S. territory.

And for the latest on Irene and what to expect in the days ahead, we turn to Jim Kosek, senior meteorologist with AccuWeather.com.

Thanks for joining us.

So, where the storm now and what’s the immediate path look like?

JIM KOSEK, AccuWeather meteorologist: Well, still moving off to the northwest at about 12 miles per hour here, Jeff. And it looks like that motion is going to continue throughout the nighttime hours. It’s over the southeastern Bahamas, still well off to the south by a couple hundred miles getting away from Nassau and Freeport in the northern Bahamas.

But the damage is going to be done over the next 24 hours in this location. As a matter of fact, when the storm develops an eye, you get the corresponding eyewall. That’s the meat and potatoes of the storm system where the damage is done. So on the northern-eastern flank of the storm system, even though it’s going to be going just off to the east of Nassau, as well as Freeport, we’re still going to have a lot of rain and a lot of problem with the wind in this area, as we’re probably ramping up the storm system, probably getting Category 4 over the next 24 hours.

So we’re going to be expecting this 131 to 155 miles per hour. That’s ridiculous, Jeff.

JEFFREY BROWN: So you have got quite a wide swathe of the East Coast of the U.S. now. What’s the level of certainty — or what are the factors when you look at where it might make landfall and where hit the hardest?

JIM KOSEK: A couple things we’re looking at.

The Bermuda high pressure is pretty strong this time of the year and given the clockwise steering flow around that, it’s definitely going to take off it to the northwest tonight. But there are a couple troughs or cold fronts moving through the Midwest right now. That’s one aspect with the severe weather over Michigan and Indiana currently, but also over the — kind of the Northwest and through British Columbia and Alberta. That’s another cool front that is going to make it on in through the Great Lakes and Northeast on Saturday.

That’s going to help draw the storm system in. And one thing to keep in mind, the storm track goes to the path of least resistance, where the pressure is going to be lowest. So it’s going to cut into those cold fronts before it eventually gets swept out. That’s why we think it’s a pretty good likelihood that we’re going to have hurricane-force — major hurricane-force conditions along the coast of North Carolina as we roll in on in through Saturday afternoon, Saturday night, and perhaps Category 2 coming up to Long Island and Category 1 for the remainder of New England late this weekend.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, we saw the — we just saw some pictures of people getting prepared in North Carolina. Those are — you know, it’s the height of the summer season. These are some tough economic decisions, I guess, for local officials.

So, your advice right now is, they’re doing the right thing to get prepared, especially in North Carolina, right?

JIM KOSEK: Absolutely.

And I don’t want to just shrug off the reminder of the Southeast, because this is also a setup, any part of Florida on northbound, where you’re probably not dealing with much in terms of wind. It won’t even get tropical storm right up through Georgia or South Carolina, but you’re contending with rough surf and lots of beach erosion.

So anywhere from Miami on northbound, you at least have those problems. So if you think you’re venturing into the water, you have to keep in mind that Irene is a very, very large storm system, much like dropping a plunger into the ocean. So the effects in terms of rough surf and rip currents already felt along Florida’s coastline and even as far north as, say, Fire Island on Long Island east of New York City starting tomorrow.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, and briefly, just you mentioned going all the way up into New England, that — some talk about it being the biggest storm to hit up there in quite a long while.

JIM KOSEK: Quite a long while, indeed.

We remember Hurricane Bob back from 1991, also Bertha and Fran from ’96. So, Floyd from ’99 didn’t have a lot of wind, but a lot of rain associated with it. But this could actually be the strongest storm system since 1938 to come up in through this area, so a lot of damage. And, unfortunately, this is just getting its act together. Even though it is going to be weakening once it gets north of Cape Hatteras due to a little bit more wind shear and cooler waters, you’re still talking about a hurricane nonetheless.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, one to watch.

Joe Kosek of AccuWeather.com, thanks very much.