Action News meteorologist David Murphy says Irene is still a Category Three hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 115 mph.
The storm is now moving NW through the Bahamas and most long-range projections send the storm near the outer banks of North Carolina near Cape Hatteras on Saturday.
Most of the recent model guidance has the storm's track continuing to the north and passing either near Cape May or slightly off the coast as a Category Two hurricane.
At this point, it appears periods of heavy rain and strong winds are possible beginning late Saturday night and through most of Sunday across the Delaware and Lehigh Valleys, with the strongest winds closer to the coast.
Currently, there is a 40% chance of tropical storm force winds in South Jersey on Sunday (roughly 40 to 70 mph sustained winds).
Flooding is possible, along with downed trees and power outages. Things could change, but this is what we are seeing as a potential as of now.
No matter the track, dangerous rip currents will be present in the ocean waters along Delaware and New Jersey beginning Friday and probably not subsiding until Sunday night.
Meanwhile, officials are scrambling to inspect bridges, sending naval ships away, dusting off evacuation plans and getting sandbags ready for potential floods. And considering where and when to move people out of harm's way.
"You have to recognize that you're living here on an island, and island living represents certain risks," said Edward Mangano, county executive in Long Island's Nassau County, where school buses were being moved to higher ground in case they're needed to evacuate residents to storm shelters. "And those risks appear now, at least, to be tracking toward us."
Irene could hit North Carolina's Outer Banks on Saturday afternoon with winds around 115 mph (185 kph). It's predicted to chug up the East Coast, dumping rain from Virginia to New York City before a much-weakened form reaches land in Connecticut. Finally, it should peter out in Maine by Monday afternoon.
A hurricane watch was issued early Thursday for much of the North Carolina coast including the Outer Banks. A hurricane watch means hurricane conditions are possible within 36 hours. Also, a tropical storm watch was issued for much of South Carolina's coast.
In Virginia, the U.S. Navy ordered the Second Fleet to leave Norfolk Naval Station to keep ships safe from the approaching hurricane. Thursday's order applied to 64 ships in southeastern Virginia. Nine ships were already at sea early Thursday with more on the way.
The Navy said ships that are under way can better weather such storms. The move will also help protect piers from being damaged.
Meanwhile, a new tropical depression formed far out over the Atlantic early Thursday, with the National Hurricane Center saying it would likely become a tropical storm later in the day.
Even without hurricane-force winds, northeastern states already drenched from a rainy August could see flooding and fallen trees from Irene.
"You want to go into a hurricane threat with dry soil, low rivers, a half moon," New Jersey state climatologist David Robinson said.
That is not the case. The Garden State has gotten twice as much rain this month as in a normal August, and high tide happens at 8 a.m. EDT on Sunday, when Irene might be passing by.
HOW TO PREPARE:
If you are asked to evacuate, you should do so without delay. But unless you live in a coastal or low-lying area, an area that floods frequently, or in manufactured housing, it is unlikely that emergency managers will ask you to evacuate. That means that it is important for you and your family to HAVE A PLAN that makes you as safe as possible in your home.
Disaster prevention includes modifying your home to strengthen it against storms so that you can be as safe as possible. It also includes having the supplies on hand to weather the storm.
The suggestions provided here are only guides. You should use common sense in your disaster prevention.
DEVELOP A FAMILY PLAN - Your family's plan should be based on your vulnerability to the Hurricane Hazards. You should keep a written plan and share your plan with other friends or family.
CREATE A DISASTER SUPPLY KIT - There are certain items you need to have regardless of where you ride out a hurricane. The disaster supply kit is a useful tool when you evacuate as well as making you as safe as possible in your home.
SECURE YOUR HOME - There are things that you can do to make your home more secure and able to withstand stronger storms.
ONLINE VULNERABILITY INFO - There are web sites that can give you information about your communities vulnerability to specific hazards. These include hurricanes as well as other weather related hazards.Web Link:
Hurricane Preparedness ---