Hurricane Irene may hit North Carolina a day earlier than originally projected, according to updated forecasts from the National Hurricane Center.
Irene is now expected to make landfall near Morehead City, N.C., on Saturday. From there, it will continue up the North Carolina coast and into Virginia late Saturday and early Sunday, and then to the Delmarva Peninsula, which includes parts of Virginia, Maryland and Delaware. It is currently a Category 2 hurricane with sustained winds close to 100 miles per hour, but meteorologists warned that it would likely intensify to Category 3 (sustained winds above 110 miles per hour) or even Category 4 (sustained winds above 130 miles per hour).
The projected path continues to put the core of the hurricane off the Florida coast, so if the path holds steady, it will not make landfall there. However, heavy rain and high winds could cause significant damage even more than 200 miles from the center of the storm. And, because Irene is still a few days away from the United States, the projections may be off by as much as 250 miles, forecasters told the Christian Science Monitor. If this is the case, Florida could still suffer a direct hit.
Residents of coastal areas are taking few chances. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has teams stationed in North Carolina in anticipation of the coming storm, and officials have ordered mandatory evacuations of some towns. Residents of both North Carolina and Florida are being urged to stock up on food and other supplies.
Forecasters do not know how strong Irene will be once it moves north of Virginia, but they did not rule out the possibility that parts of the mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions would experience tropical storm conditions.