Maryland began taking major precautions ahead of Hurricane Irene, including evacuating the beach-resort town of Ocean City for the first time in more than two decades.
Early Friday, swells and six foor- to nine-foot waves were beginning to batter North Carolina's Outer Banks, according to the National Weather Service. Surrounding areas also experienced rain and slight winds ahead of the monster storm.
As Irene continued to move slowly north, she was downgraded on Friday to a Category 2 storm after her winds dissipated somewhat to 110 mph, a decrease from the 115 mph reported the previous day, but its width has actually expanded.Irene's hurricane force winds extended outward to 90 miles and its tropical storm winds outward to 290 miles. The extending force winds winds mean more communities will be impacted, even if wind speeds have decreased.
The National Hurricane Center expanded its hurricane warning -- meaning a hurricane is expected within 48 hours -- to include portions of the Chesapeake Bay. It also expanded its tropical storm watch to include Baltimore and portions of Western Maryland.
A flash flood warning has been issued for the following counties: Anne Arundel, Calvert, Charles, Harford, Howard, Montgomery, northern Baltimore, Prince George's, and St. Mary's.
The most at risk Maryland counties are those that border the Chesapeake Bay in Western Maryland. Those areas are expected to get six to eight inches of rain and face heavy winds if the storm reaches the area as a Category 2 storm or stronger, as expected.
Thursday, Maryland governor Martin O'Malley declared a state of emergency, citing a need to take protective actions to protect the lives and property of impacted citizens.
Popular tourist beach destination Ocean City acted quickly and issued a mandatory evacuation of all residents by Friday night. The city told residents to secure property and make final preparations, adding, that everyone must be out of the city as soon as possible.
Ocean City will block all entrances into the city by Saturday morning. Forecasts show that the storm could pass directly over Ocean City early Sunday, though it will drop heavy rain on Saturday ahead of the eye of the storm.
Although Baltimore hasn't ordered residents to evacuate, it has encouraged residents to make storm preparations. Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake urged building owners in at-risk coastal flood areas, including the popular Inner Harbor and Fell's Point, to begin preparing for the massive storm.
Current forecasts show Baltimore, Howard, and Montgomery counties beginning to get hit by the tropical storm conditions on Saturday -- possibly flooding high-risk areas.
Tropical storms could hit the area with 40 mph winds, gusts of close to 60 mph winds, and heavy rainfall. The heaviest action isn't expected until Sunday morning, but the conditions are subject to change based on the storm's exact path.