Hurricane Irene has strengthened into a Major Category Three storm as of 8 AM Eastern Wednesday with maximum sustained winds of 115 mph. Overnight, maximum sustained winds hovered just below the 111 mph benchmark dividing a Category 2 and 3 hurricane. Here is the latest visible satellite picture taken from space of Hurricane Irene, where you can see the rough eye-wall:
Here are the full stats on Irene as of Wednesday Morning:
This major Category Three strength should hold as Irene tracks through the warm waters of the Bahamas into a region of relatively low wind shear.
The Outer Banks of North Carolina will probably bear the brunt of Irene, and some evacuation orders are already occurring in places like Ocracoke. By the time Irene passes near Virginia Beach in the pre-dawn hours of Sunday morning, it will likely produce tropical storm force winds as far west as the western Piedmont, and hurricane force winds in the eastern Peninsulas, Hampton Roads, and the Eastern Shore.
In addition to the tropical wind damage threat, we will also have the potential for coastal flooding along the Chesapeake Bay and upstream in the waterways that feed into the Bay, and there could also be some brief, weak tornadoes that occur in the spiral bands in the northeast side of the storm as those bands make landfall.
Irene will then move on Sunday afternoon into New England, likely producing widespread wind damage, power outages, and flooding.
Stay with CBS6, we'll keep you ahead of the storm.
--Meteorologist Carrie Rose