Waiting for Irene

People along the East Coast prepare for a huge hurricane

Aug 26, 2011 | By Joe Levit
SCOTT OLSON—GETTY IMAGES

Hurricane Irene is setting itself up to be a costly and potentially dangerous storm. The latest forecasts predict that it will crash into the North Carolina coastline Saturday, then churn up the Eastern Seaboard, whipping wind and drenching areas from Virginia to New York City before the storm reaches New England.

On Friday, the storm was moving north toward the Carolinas at 14 miles per hour, carrying with it hurricane-force winds that churned at 110 miles per hour. Those winds extend 70 miles from the storm in either direction.

“One of my greatest nightmares was having a major hurricane go up the whole Northeast coast,” former National Hurricane Center director Max Mayfield said on Thursday. The area is densely populated. Major cities, including Washington, D.C., New York City and Boston, are in the storm’s path. Officials say at least 65 million people could be affected. The storm has the potential to cause billions of dollars in damage.

This storm will bring with it a number of troubles: high winds, heavy rain that can lead to flash flooding, and storm surges that could cover low-lying land areas. It doesn’t help that some areas along the East Coast have already experienced too much water recently.

This image shows Hurricane Irene moving up the East Coast.
NOAA—AFP/GETTY IMAGES/HO
This image shows Hurricane Irene moving up the East Coast.

Parts of New Jersey, for instance, have had double and even triple the amount of rain they normally do in August. New Jersey State Climatologist Dr. David Robinson says rainfall from Hurricane Irene might have nowhere to go but directly into streams and rivers. “The ground is essentially already a soaked sponge. Thus it won’t take much rain to start flooding.”

Being Prepared

In Nags Head, North Carolina, traffic has been steady Friday as people flee the Outer Banks and beach towns. On Thursday, tourists were ordered to leave the barrier islands, and many residents took the advice and got out.

"We felt like we would be okay, and we could ride out the storm," says retired teacher Pete Reynolds. "But when they announced mandatory evacuations, I knew it was serious."

In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced plans to shut down New York City’s entire transit system at noon on Saturday, ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Irene. Officials say high winds and rain from the storm could damage subway cars. Service won't be available again until sometime Monday.

What can you and your family do to get ready for Hurricane Irene? If you’re in an evacuation zone, you should leave the area. If not, it still makes sense to keep safety in mind. Create an emergency kit by storing fresh water, canned or packaged food, flashlights, batteries, a first-aid kit, medicines, a radio, and cash, since ATM machines may not work if there are power outages. Even if you won’t be directly affected by Hurricane Irene, this kit can help prepare for tornadoes, earthquakes and other natural disasters.