Atlantic's first 2011 hurricane, Irene, tracks toward Cape Canaveral
Hispaniola and the southern Bahamas are on alert, as hurricane Irene strengthened to a Category 1 storm Monday. Hurricane Irene is forecast to track 120 miles east of Cape Canaveral by late Friday.
Hurricane forecasters have posted hurricane and tropical-storm warnings for the island of Hispaniola and the southern Bahamas as hurricane Irene, the Atlantic season's first hurricane, crossed Puerto Rico overnight Sunday.Skip to next paragraph
Irene emerges as the 2011 Atlantic hurricane season is nearly a third of the way through its peak August-to-October period. Within that span, activity peaks on average from early to mid-September.
As of 11 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time Monday, the National Hurricane Center's track forecast puts the center of Irene roughly 120 miles east of Florida's Cape Canaveral by Friday evening, with landfall currently forecast to occur just south of Charleston, S.C., at about 8 a.m. Saturday. The intensity forecast upgrades Irene to a major hurricane, with winds in excess of 110 miles per hour, by the time it reaches the central Bahamas Thursday morning. It currently is expected to make landfall as a major hurricane.
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Errors are large, however, in track forecasts this far in advance. The track's "error" cone also include the possibilities that the storm could swing west and move up the Florida peninsula. Or it could track farther east than its current path indicates, pushing it closer to North Carolina's outer banks by Saturday morning.
Irene appeared as a tropical storm early Saturday evening from a cluster of thunderstorms some 175 miles east of Martinique. By early Monday morning, the center of the storm had arrived over Puerto Rico. But instead of weakening as it encountered the island, as often happens to a storm, it strengthened to a Category 1 hurricane, with maximum sustained winds of 74.8 m.p.h.
Although a formal analysis will come later, it appears that based on the storm's path, "the island was just too small" to deflate Irene, says Dennis Feltgen, a spokesman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Hurricane Center in Miami.
Irene was strengthening as it approached Puerto Rico, he says, and the storm's path took the eye overland but close to the island's north coast, missing the highest, most potentially disruptive terrain.
The storm's path also left much of Irene's circulation over warm water, so Irene kept spinning up. Forecasters say they expect additional strengthening.
Irene is the ninth named storm in the 2011 Atlantic Hurricane season – a season busier so far than were 2009 and 2010.