Hurricane Earl: Waiting and Watching

BY Lea Winerman  August 31, 2010 at 12:59 PM EDT

Hurricane Earl Three Day Forecast (Image Credit: NOAA)

Hurricane Earl continued to churn through the Atlantic Tuesday, heading toward the U.S. East Coast after dropping heavy rain and stirring up strong winds on the Caribbean islands of Anguilla, Antigua, and St. Maarten Monday.

Federal officials said Tuesday that they are monitoring the Category 4 storm, which could affect areas from North Carolina to New England. Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator Craig Fugate has said that people along the eastern seaboard should be prepared in case evacuations are necessary.

The agency could issue a hurricane warning later Tuesday night. The storm is forecast to brush North Carolina by Friday morning and move up the East Coast over the weekend, but it’s still too early to tell which areas will be most affected.

Hurricane center meteorologist Barry Baxter told Reuters that the storm was still forecast to stay slightly offshore, narrowly missing a direct hit to the coast. “It’s still staying off the coast at this point for the whole eastern U.S.,” he said. But any movement to the west could prompt evacuations.

Meanwhile, in Florida, the storm system as already causing dangerous rip currents along the coast, a local CBS station reported.

And among other things, the storm puts Labor Day travel plans at risk, setting the stage for a “rainy and rambunctious” weekend, the Washington Post reports.