Defying expectations, hurricane Irene weakened Friday afternoon – and opportunity for rebuilding its intensity is limited. North Carolina and the inland northeast remain at high risk for flooding.
Against predictions, hurricane Irene lost strength Friday afternoon, now registering as a weakening Category 2 hurricane with little chance of revival before it hits North Carolina on Saturday. While Irene's wind speeds dropped to about 100 miles per hour, the risks for inland flooding remained high, with the storm expected to drop as many as 8 inches of rain on water-logged parts of the mid-Atlantic and New England.
“With its eyewall collapsed and just 24 more hours over water before landfall, it is unlikely Irene will have time to build a new eyewall and intensify,” writes meteorologist Jeff Masters on Wunderground.com. “The storm is too large to weaken quickly, and the best forecast is that Irene will be a Category 2 hurricane at landfall in North Carolina on Saturday, and a rapidly weakening Category 1 hurricane at its second landfall in New England on Sunday.”
The storm's massive 290-mile breadth, however, will mean an oversized storm surge in many coastal areas, including parts of the Northeast, Mr. Masters writes. The combination of a new moon high tide and a possible 10-foot storm surge means North Carolina faces the greatest threat of flooding. Major wind damage remains likely especially for coastal Carolina and the Outer Banks. Much of the East Coast remains at risk for flooding and power outage.
Because of the storm's unusual path and concerns about flooding, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg ordered first-ever evacuations for low-lying parts of the city Friday and a shutdown of the city's mass transit system starting on Saturday.