Hurricane Irene could seriously threaten areas as far north as Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket off the Massachusetts coast, according to federal officials, who extended more hurricane watches and warnings on Friday.
Irene's impact on coastal Massachusetts is being watched particularly closely because President Obama is currently vacationing on Martha's Vineyard. Most people vacationing at the popular beach spot are returning to the mainland ahead of the storm, but as of Friday morning, there were no signs that the president was preparing to evacuate. He did, however, hold a conference call with emergency management officials to discuss the federal response to Hurricane Irene.
A hurricane watch is in effect for the majority of Massachusetts, not just the coast, and Gov. Deval Patrick said he would hold a press conference Friday afternoon. Patrick has not yet declared a state of emergency, which would allow the National Guard to be deployed to help towns affected by Irene, but it is possible he will announce one at the press conference.
Meteorologists said that wherever the center of the hurricane hits, anywhere west will get heavy rain and anywhere east will get high winds. As with all coastal areas, the barrier island of Cape Cod and the nearby Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket are in particular danger from the storm surge. The Boston Globe reported that some areas could see up to 10 inches of rain.
Irene remained well south of New England on Friday, approaching the North Carolina coast as a Category 2 hurricane with sustained winds up to 110 miles per hour. It is possible that it will weaken into a tropical storm by the time it reaches Massachusetts and other New England states, but even a tropical storm could cause serious damage, and officials are taking no chances.
The storm devastated Puerto Rico, Hispaniola and the Bahamas on its path through the Caribbean earlier this week. It skirted the Florida coast, but now it is headed straight for North Carolina. It is expected to make landfall Saturday on Ocracoke Island, a barrier island off the state's east coast. From there, it will pass through Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey and possibly eastern Pennsylvania; straight through New York City if current projections hold; and then into New England states like Connecticut and Massachusetts.