Hurricane Irene strengthened into a Category 3 storm, making a turn to the northwest as she barrels down a path that leads her across the Outer Banks of North Carolina, up into Long Island, New York, and straight through New England.

The powerful storm built up steam overnight and is battering the Bahamas as it connects the dots up the chain of islands towards the Eastern Seaboard.

Because Hurricane Irene's path has changed several times in the past 36 hours, Craig Fugate, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said on Tuesday that the entire East Coast should be on alert.

According to the National Hurricane Center's 11:00 a.m. EDT update, Irene remains on route to skim the North Carolina coast before plowing up the Atlantic toward Long Island and the New England states.

Where exactly will it hit?

Much of that depends on how strong Hurricane Irene gets over the next 36 hours. The stronger Irene gets, the faster she spins, the further she heads to the east. If Irene doesn't strengthen much beyond a Category 3, she could hit closer toward the Jersey Shore and up into New York City.

Let's take a look at the latest alert:

As of 11:00 a.m. EDT, the storm center was located 100 miles southeast of Long Island Bahamas, or about 285 miles southeast of Nassau.

The Category 3 storm packs maximum sustained winds of 115 mph. Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center predict Irene will strengthen throughout the day Wednesday and could become a Category 4 storm by Thursday.

Hurricane-force winds extend outward up to 50 miles from the storm center with tropical-storm-force winds extending up to 205 miles.

A hurricane warning remains in effect for all of the Bahamas.

A tropical storm warning is in effect for the Turks and Caicos Islands.

The National Hurricane Center urges interests in eastern North Carolina and the Mid-Atlantic States to monitor the progress of Irene.

Thousands of people in Ocracoke Island, N.C., have been ordered to evacuate as the storm eyes the Carolina coast.

What's the outlook for the Northeast?

It's still too early to tell where exactly Hurricane Irene will hit the East Coast - if at all. That said, the entire Eastern Seaboard has been urged to remain alert and prepared for the major storm that is lurking in the Bahamian waters.

According to the latest computer forecast models there are three most likely outcomes.

1.)    Irene takes a more interior track, passing near Raleigh, N.C., Richmond, Va., Washington D.C., Baltimore, Md., Philadelphia and New York City. This is by far the worst-case scenario.

2.)    Irene skirts the Outer Banks as a monster storm and makes landfall anywhere from the Jersey Shore to New England. Most agree this is the most likely scenario. In this case, Long Island, New York would be the most likely landfall location.

3.)    Irene revs up and continues to shift eastward, missing the coast entirely like Hurricane Earl did last year. Unfortunately, this is unlikely. Unlike last year, there is a strong westward shift of the persistent steering pattern known as the Bermuda high that's more likely to push storms westward toward land.

Could New York City get a direct hit?

It's unlikely that New York City would get a direct hit, but it has happened before. In 1893, the West Indian Cyclone carried sailing ships to Sixth Avenue and created a river on Canal Street that briefly connected the East River and the Hudson. The storm swept much of Coney Island into the sea and entirely destroyed a barrier beach called Hog Island that once lay south of the Rockaways in Queens.

Statistically, the region is due for a major storm. According to NOAA's Coastal Services Center, there have been roughly 10 hurricanes to come within 200 miles of New York City within the past 60 years. That's an average of one every six years. Yet, the last one was Hurricane Bob in 1991 which brushed Montauk, Long Island. Statistically, the region is way overdue.

For now, it's a waiting game to find out where Hurricane Irene will be on Saturday morning.


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