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Hurricane Irene carries threat of inland floods, not just coastal surge (VIDEO)

Hurricane Irene continued on a path early Friday to lash much of the East Coast – and not just coastal areas. Inland areas of the mid-Atlantic and New England are at risk of flash floods.

By Staff writer / August 26, 2011

A message is left for Hurricane Irene on one house, left, as a resident boards up another in anticipation of the arrival of Hurricane Irene in Nags Head, N.C., Thursday, Aug. 25, on North Carolina's Outer Banks.

Charles Dharapak/AP

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A slightly weaker hurricane Irene moved north toward North Carolina Friday morning as hurricane warnings and watches were posted along the coast from the North Carolina-South Carolina border to the mouth of the Merrimack River north of Boston.

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Packing maximum sustained winds of 110 miles per hour, Irene's hurricane-force winds now extend some 90 miles from its center, with tropical-storm winds extending 290 miles.

The storm's track has changed little in the past 24 hours. At 8 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time, forecasters said they expected Irene's eye to make its initial landfall Saturday as the storm strikes the Cape Hatteras region. Then it moves back over open water, hugging the coast. The eye is expected to make landfall and cross central Long Island in New York on Sunday, then move up through central New England.

IN PICTURES: Hurricane Irene

Hurricane warnings were posted from the Little River Inlet, N.C., to Sandy Hook, N.J. The National Hurricane Center in Miami issues the warnings 36 hours before tropical-storm-force winds are expected to arrive to make preparations dangerous.

Forecasters also have posted a tropical-storm warning along a stretch of coastline from just north of South Carolina's Edisto Beach to Little River Inlet.

Hurricane watches stretch from Sandy Hook to the mouth of the Merrimack River north of Boston. Hurricane watches are issued some 48 hours ahead of the first tropical-storm-force winds.

The current watches also cover the popular Massachusetts vacation islands of Martha's Vineyard, where President Obama and his family currently are vacationing, and Nantucket.

In addition to the storm surge Irene is expected push into coastal areas, inland flooding could be a serious problem because of the storm's size and track, forecasters say. While the eastern half of a storm tends to have the strongest winds, the western half tends to dump the most rain.

Flood and flash-flood watches, issued by local National Weather Service forecast offices, have started to pop up along the eastern seaboard.

In eastern Pennsylvania, southeast New York, and much of southwestern New England, soil moisture is significantly above normal for this time of year, says David Vallee, lead hydrologist at the Northeast River Forecast Center in Taunton, Mass. Intense summer thunderstorms have dropped enough rain over southern New England to push monthly rainfall totals for August from 2 to 5 inches above normal.

As a result, rivers are running at unusually high levels for this time of year, he adds. "Thats not a good thing when you have the potential for a foot of rain to come down this weekend," he says.

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