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Hurricane Watches Up In N.C. As Irene Chugs Toward U.S.

Hurricane Irene has " roared across the Bahamas archipelago" and remains on track to hit the coast of North Carolina on Saturday and then soak much of the Eastern seaboard over the weekend and into next week as it chugs north.

The latest advisory from the National Hurricane Center says Irene's "maximum sustained winds are near 115 mph," meaning it's still a dangerous Category 3 hurricane. The center warns that some strengthening is expected today and tonight, which means she could turn into an even more ominous Category 4 storm before reaching the coast of the U.S.

Irene's projected path as of 8 a.m. ET today (Aug. 25, 2011).
/ National Hurricane Center
National Hurricane Center
Irene's projected path as of 8 a.m. ET today (Aug. 25, 2011).

According to the system for categorizing hurricanes, a Category 4 hurricane has winds of 131 to 155 mph.

The Hurricane Center has issued a "hurricane watch" for the North Carolina coast, which means:

"Hurricane conditions (sustained winds of 74 mph or higher) are possible within the specified coastal area. Because hurricane preparedness activities become difficult once winds reach tropical storm force, the hurricane watch is issued 48 hours in advance of the anticipated onset of tropical-storm-force winds."

As The Virginian-Pilot writes, "the watch extends north from Surf City to the North Carolina border with Virginia and includes the Pamilico, Albemarle and Currituck Sounds. The storm, with maximum sustained winds of 115 mph, was located 735 miles south of Cape Hatteras and was moving northwest at 12 mph."

The Hurricane Center's projection has Irene making landfall along the North Carolina coast sometime around midday Saturday — though its effects will be felt well before then. Evacuations have been underway since Wednesday.

Just a short time ago, The Associated Press reported that the U.S. Navy has ordered ships of the Second Fleet to leave the Norfolk (Va.) Naval Station and head out to sea where they can better weather the storm.

Update at 5:07 p.m. ET. Hurricane Center's 5 p.m. Advisory:

Hurricane Irene continues to be a significant threat for the Eastern Seaboard. In its latest advisory, the Hurricane Center has moved the track a bit westward. They also indicate that the computer models have come into better agreement over the past few hours.

Update at 4:43 p.m. ET. New York In State Of Emergency:

Right now, the Hurricane Center has Irene passing right over New York City. Of course, there is a huge degree of uncertainty in the forecast, but the AP just reported that in preparation New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has declared a state of emergency.

Update at 1 p.m. ET. More From The Hurricane Center's 11 a.m. Advisory:

"The guidance envelope has shifted a little westward on this cycle ... and the new official track has been nudged west as well." Translation: That would move the center of the storm a little more over land.

Update at 11 a.m. ET: The Hurricane Center just posted a new advisory. Irene's maximum sustained winds continue to blow at 115 mph, with some higher gusts. It remains a Category 3 hurricane, with hurricane force winds extending outward up to 70 miles from the center.

The timing of its arrival along the North Carolina coast has been changed to 8 a.m. ET on Saturday. Earlier, the projection was that it would make land at 2 a.m. ET Saturday.

Similarly, Irene is now expected to be at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay around 8 a.m. ET on Sunday, not 2 a.m. ET.

The center's next update is scheduled for 2 p.m. ET.

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Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.
Eyder Peralta
Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.