Hurricane Irene is an active North Atlantic tropical cyclone, the ninth named storm, first hurricane, and first major hurricane of the 2011 season. Irene formed from a well-defined Atlantic tropical wave, which showed signs of organization east of the Lesser Antilles. It developed atmospheric convection and a closed cyclonic circulation center, prompting the National Hurricane Center to initiate public advisories on the tropical cyclone late on August 20. Subsequent convective organization occurred as it passed the Leeward Islands, and by August 21 it moved very close to Saint Croix. The next day Irene made landfall near Puerto Rico, where high winds and intermittent torrents caused significant property damage.
The hurricane strengthened as it passed through the Bahamas, becoming a major hurricane while doing so and causing extensive damage to the islands. Recurving toward the north, Irene skirted past Florida with its outer bands producing tropical storm-force winds. It is currently approaching the coast of North Carolina, and is forecast to make landfall within 24 hours. Throughout its path, Irene caused widespread destruction and at least six deaths; monetary losses could be as high as US$3.1 billion according to preliminary estimates.
The U.S. east coast is bracing itself for a first major hurricane in seven years.
Evacuations began on a tiny barrier island off North Carolina as Hurricane Irene strengthened to a major Category 3 storm over the Bahamas today with the east coast in its sights.
Irene's maximum sustained winds have already increased to near 115mph and it’s likely to grow into a Category 4 monster by the time it hits mainland U.S. this weekend and crawls up the northeast.