Hurricane Irene's path strengthened to a Category 3 hurricane overnight while passing over the Bahamas on Wednesday.

Tuesday morning, the then-Category 2 storm had about 100 mph winds, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami.

Federal officials have warned Irene could cause flooding, power outages or worse all along the East Coast as far north as Maine, even if it stays offshore.

For residents in states that may be affected later this week, it's critical that you take this storm seriously, said Craig Fugate, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Officials say the projected path has gradually shifted to the east, though Irene is still expected to make landfall as a major hurricane in North Carolina sometime over the weekend.

The storm is expected to continue trudging northward.

Speaking Wednesday on ABC's Good Morning America, Fugate said people as far north as New England should be ready for the storm.

An image released by the NOAA made from the GEOS East satellite shows Hurricane Irene, Aug. 24, 2011 as it creeps up the East Coast with its harsh winds and disastrous nature.

The Associated Press reports, evacuations have begun on a tiny barrier island off North Carolina early Wednesday in a test of whether people in the cross-hairs of the first serious hurricane along the East Coast in years will heed orders to get out of the way.

The last hurricane to make landfall in the U.S. was Ike, which pounded Texas in 2008, experts say.

Although, this storm is reportedly moving to the west-northwest near 10 mph, with an expected turn toward the northwest on Wednesday.

East Coast residents are stocking up on bottled water and plywood, and this week Hurricane Irene began trending on Twitter, with many users sharing updates on the storm's progress while others hoped it wouldn't come their way.

After several extremely active years, Florida has not been struck by a hurricane since Wilma raked across the state's south in October 2005, which was responsible for at least five deaths in the state and came two months after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans' parishes.

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