Hurricane Irene slams Puerto Rico; could hit U.S. projected path shifts farther east.

Hurricane Irene continued on a path that would take it east of Florida, heading toward the Bahamas where it is forecast to arrive as a major hurricane.

At 5 p.m. Tuesday the storm was about 65 miles north of Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic, with maximum sustained winds of 80 miles per hour.

The Bahamas issued a hurricane warning for the central Bahamas and a hurricane watch for the northwestern Bahamas.

The projected path remains to the east of Florida, keeping the core over the Bahamas and more than 150 miles off South Florida’s coast and more than 100 miles off the Central Florida coast.

That still could be close enough to bring some wind and rain to Florida during the day on Thursday and into Friday morning, the National Weather Service said.

“Despite the eastward shifting, the system has the potential be so strong and large that we could still see tropical storm conditions, along with squally weather,” said meteorologist Pablo Santos. “All it would take would be minor jog the west, and that could bring tropical storm winds right over us.”

The reason the hurricane is expected to bulk up: It is predicted to remain north of Hispaniola over open warm water, said senior hurricane special Lixion Avila of the National Hurricane Center. That island otherwise could have weakened or even disrupted it.

At 5 p.m. on Monday, Irene was in the Atlantic about 215 miles southeast of Grand Turk Island, moving northwest at 13 mph with sustained winds of 80 mph.

Irene intensified into the first hurricane of the season at 5 a.m. on Monday while it was over Puerto Rico. According to initial reports, the storm knocked down lines and trees and left about 800,000 people without power.

Under the latest forecast, the system would move north of Hispaniola on Monday and Tuesday and through the Bahamas on Wednesday, growing into a Category 3 hurricane along the way.

It is expected to arrive near South Florida by Thursday afternoon, although the region could start feeling the storm’s fringes on Thursday morning.

From there, it would churn north, paralleling the state’s east coast and aiming toward South Carolina. It is projected to be near Charleston, S.C., on Saturday morning.

More immediately, Irene is expected to produce up to 5 to 10 inches of rain along its path, including Puerto Rico, the Virigin Islands, northern Hispaniola and the Bahamas, the hurricane center said.

By Ken Kaye and David Fleshler
Sun Sentinel
4:53 p.m. EDT, August 22, 2011

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