Hurricane Irene could gain some strength over the day, but the storm is likely to quickly weaken again as it heads north toward more populated areas of the mid-Atlantic and New England.
Proving that hurricane prediction is more art than science, hurricane Irene wandered rather than crashed into the North Carolina coast Saturday morning as a Category 1 hurricane, spawning localized tornadoes, swelling rivers and cutting power to 160,000 homes.
A massive storm that hit the Bahamas as a Category 3 storm weakened instead of strengthened Friday, making landfall at Cape Lookout, N.C., around 7 a.m. Saturday with sustained winds no stronger than 85 miles an hour.
The storm could gain some strength over the day, but is likely to quickly weaken again as it heads north toward more populated areas of the mid-Atlantic and New England, says Mike Biggerstaff with NOAA's Severe Storm Laboratory, who was on site in Morehead City gauging the storm.
The storm still carries some punch, says Mr. Biggerstaff.
“The eyewall just went by us and is about 17 kilometers in altitude, and there's strong convection in the eyewall as it moved over land,” he said from Morehead City, just to the west of the hurricane core's landfall. “We'll see some very strong storms and winds for a little while before it weakens again.”
The heaviest damage so far came near the town of Columbia, N.C., near the Virginia border, where “tornadic activity” blew apart half a dozen empty mobile homes and knocked out a sewer station. North Carolina authorities reported tornado activity in three counties, with minor injuries. One death was attributed to the storm: A man in Onslow County who died from a heart attack while boarding up his home.