The National Hurricane Center issued an advisory Monday night urging South Florida residents to keep an eye on Hurricane Irene, which reached Category 2 status Monday evening as she bore down on the Bahamas.
Maximum sustained windspeeds of 100 miles per hour and even stronger gusts were reported from an Air Force Reserve hurricane hunter aircraft.
"The aircraft found the storm was significantly stronger than we were carrying it," explained Michael Brennan, an NHC senior hurricane specialist. "When that happens, we put out a special forecast package."
Brennan said that though Irene was a whole category stronger than anticipated, her track did not change significantly.
"There haven't been any shifts either toward or away South Florida. Its closest point of approach is between Thursday morning and evening. That's when the center will be closest to South Florida.
"We're still projecting it to [pass] offshore, but it certainly could be close enough to bring some impacts, because it appears Irene is going to grow in strength and size."
NHC forecasters expect Irene to grow into a major hurricane on Tuesday, and urged South Florida residents and visitors to continue to monitor forecasts and go over hurricane preparedness plans.
At 11 p.m. Monday, the center of Irene was just north of the Domincan Republic, and the system is expected to move over the southeastern Bahamas Tuesday as it churns north-northwest at 12 miles per hour.
A turn to the north-northwest is expected Tuesday night and Wednesday, according to the NHC, with the system passing by Miami Thursday.
A hurricane warning is in effect for southeastern and central Bahamas, the north coast of the Dominican Republic from the Haiti border east to Cabo Engano, and the Turks and Caicos islands.
A hurricane watch has been issued for the north coast of Haiti from Le Mole St. Nicholas eastward to the Dominican Republic border, and northwestern Bahamas. A tropical storm warning is in effect for the south coast of the Dominican Republic from Santo Domingo eastward to Cabo Engano and Haiti.
Both Miami International and Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood Airports saw cancellations Monday of flights to and from Caribbean island nations. Broward County Aviation spokesman Greg Meyer said FLL had 20 cancellations as of 10:30 p.m. Monday night, all in or out of San Juan, Santo Domingo, and Punta Cana.
Irene is expected to leave rainfall of up to 10 inches across the Dominican Republic, Haiti, the southeastern Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands.
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