Posted by: coastlinesproject | August 27, 2011

Irene Weakened to a Cat 1 hurricane aims at NC.

The good news is that Irene has weakened considerably. However storm surge will still be a significant factor on the coast and rainfall and flooding inland. Attached from NY Times.

NAGS HEAD, N.C. — The eye wall of Hurricane Irene, now a category one storm, is within a hours of making landfall in eastern North Carolina, the first stop in the mainland United States for a storm that is expected to scrape up the East Coast and bring flooding rains to a dozen states.

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Howling winds and sheets of rains accompanied the storm overnight, signaling the approach of its core. A hurricane-force wind gust was reported at Hatteras on the Outer Banks. A predawn update by the National Hurricane Center indicated that the hurricane would make landfall after daybreak Saturday somewhere between Morehead City, to the west, and Cape Hatteras, to the east. In its 5 a.m. update, the hurricane center said the storm was about 35 miles south of Cape Lookout, N.C.

After reaching land, it is expected to force a storm surge into the bays and sounds, inundating low-lying areas.

The storm is then forecast to continue churning north-north-east toward New York, where mandatory evacuations were issued in parts of the city.

On Saturday morning the hurricane center downgraded the storm from a category two to a category one, indicating that further weakening had occurred overnight. It’s maximum sustained winds are now said to be 90 miles per hour, with higher gusts. But forecasters said it remained a very powerful storm.

“Some weakening is expected after Irene reaches the coast of North Carolina,” the hurricane center’s update said, “but Irene is forecast to remain a hurricane as it moves near or over the mid-Atlantic states and New England.”

Still, some slight sighs of relief were evident early Saturday morning at local emergency management offices in North Carolina, which had prepared for a brush with a much stronger and more unpredictable category three or four storm.

But signs still abounded of the storm’s potency — spotty power outages, downed trees on roads near the coast, and damage to municipal buildings were all reported overnight, and rescuers in New Hanover County had to end a search for a possible drowning victim in the Cape Fear River because the weather had made it too dangerous to continue.

“The storm is moving more slowly than expected,” said Mazie Swindell Smith, the county manager in Hyde County, which is expecting storm surge from the inland bay that it abuts. “That’s not good as far as rainfall, because it’ll just sit here and dump rain.”

With an estimated 55 million people in the path of a storm the size of California, the East Coast’s major cities were preparing for the worst. Hurricane watches were posted and states of emergency declared for North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and New England. Amtrak canceled train service for the weekend, and airlines began canceling flights, urging travelers to stay home.

For the first time in its history, New York City planned to shut down its entire mass transit and subway system — the world’s largest — beginning at noon on Saturday. At least 370,000 people in the city were ordered evacuated from low-lying areas. New Jersey Transit was set to suspend service then as well.

Organizations from the Pentagon to the American Red Cross were positioning mobile units and preparing shelters with food and water. The Defense Department amassed 18 helicopters to be ready with lifesaving equipment and put them on the Wasp, an aircraft carrier that was moved out to sea from Norfolk, Va., to get out of Irene’s way.

“All of us have to take this storm seriously,” said President Obama, who cut short his family vacation on Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., to head back to Washington on Friday. “All indications,” he said, “point to this being a historic hurricane.”

The town manager of Wrightsville Beach, Robert Simpson, said the ocean started pouring over the dunes on Friday and flooded the small beachside community.

With a storm this big and this wet — the National Hurricane Center in Miami said its tropical-storm-force winds stretched 290 miles — when it hits land, the power of the winds might not be as important as the amount of rainfall.

Such a huge dump of sustained rain along with high winds will most likely uproot trees from soggy ground and cause wide-scale loss of power.

Brian Stelter reported from Nags Head, N.C., Kim Severson from Wilmington, and Campbell Robertson from Harbinger, N.C. Reporting was contributed by Andrew Dunn and Brian Freskos from Wilmington, Katharine Q. Seelye from New York and Eric Lipton from Washington.

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