Post image for Irene first serious hurricane threat to U.S. in years

Irene first serious hurricane threat to U.S. in years

by Jorge Hernandez on August 23, 2011

The first serious hurricane threat in several years is hurtling straight toward the United States' Atlantic coast, stoking fear in experts who believe that both citizens and first responders may have become complacent in their preparedness.

The Miami Herald reports that Hurricane Irene, which has been pummeling the Bahamas, is expected make landfall in Southeastern Florida on Friday morning as a category four. According to forecasters, the storm currently has sustained winds of about 100 miles per hour and will continue to strengthen as it moves through the Caribbean.

The exact location of the storm's coming impact is not certain, and any slight deviation in wind patterns could push it from the coast to more heavily-populated shoreline communities, or it could change course and eventually make landfall in the Carolinas.

"The stakes are high because it would take just a slight shift in the track to the left to make a dramatic change in the impact of the storm in a hugely populated area," Dennis Feltgen, a spokesman for the hurricane center, told the Herald.

The storm has already been blamed for some considerable damage, even before it was upgraded to hurricane-level strength. Richard Branson says that a lightning strike from Irene set his house ablaze on Monday, causing about 20 guests, including actress Kate Winslet, to flee.

If the storm continues on its projected path, it would be a sharp divergence from last year's Atlantic hurricane season. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, while season had the most named storms since 2005, no hurricanes hit the United States, with only Tropical Storm Bonnie hitting Florida and causing just light rainfall.

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