U.S. air carriers have canceled nearly 5,000 flights this weekend as destructive Hurricane Irene threatens several large airports in New York and Washington.

Irene is now a strong Category 2 storm, with the possibility of increasing in strength. It is churning closer to the East Coast of the U.S. after destroying homes, blocking roads and plunging parts of the Bahamas into darkness.

Large airlines to include U.S. Airways, American, United, Continental, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest and AirTran have reportedly dropped ticket-change fees for passengers scheduled to fly to or from many cities along the East Coast this weekend and early next week.

Aviation officials have already made it known that they will close the five main New York City-area airports to incoming passenger flights beginning noon on Saturday. Many weekend departures have also been canceled.

These cancellations will affects John F. Kennedy International, Newark Liberty International, LaGuardia, Stewart International and Teterboro airports. It applies to both domestic and international flights.

CNN has reported that:

- Delta Air Lines plans to cancel about 1,300 Delta and Delta Connection flights between Saturday and Monday, according to spokesman Anthony Black.

- American Airlines canceled all Washington-area flights from noon Saturday through noon Sunday, according to spokesman Ed Martelle. The airline also canceled 32 Friday flights.

- JetBlue has canceled almost 900 flights in the Northeast ahead of the storm. Most of those are Sunday and Monday flights out of the New York metro area and Boston, spokesman Mateo Lleras said.

- Air Tran has canceled 265 flights from Saturday to Monday, according to spokeswoman Judy Graham-Weaver. That includes flights into and out of the following locales: Allentown/Bethlehem, Penn.; Atlantic City, N.J.; Baltimore-Washington International, Md.; Boston; New York's LaGuardia airport; Newport News, Virginia; Philadelphia; Portland, Maine; Richmond, Virginia; Washington's Reagan airport; Washington Dulles airport in northern Virginia; and White Plains, N.Y.

- Southwest announced on its website that it would not have flights to and from several airports on the East Coast. That includes no Southwest service Saturday and Sunday from Newark, LaGuardia, Long Island-Islip and Philadelphia airports. The airline won't fly to or from the Baltimore/Washington airport; Norfolk, Virginia; or Washington-Dulles in northern Virginia on Saturday. Similarly, there will be no Southwest flights Sunday to Boston; Hartford; Manchester, New Hampshire; and Providence, Rhode Island.

- US Airways is planning significant cancellations in the Washington metro area starting at 6 p.m. Saturday, carrying into Sunday. Philadelphia, New York and New England routes will see significant schedule reductions Sunday, according to an airline spokesman.

Check out this an animation of the Hurricane Irene track, sped up using infrared and visible frames of data from the GOES-13 satellite and squeezed down to 36 seconds.