Hurricane Irene is "dangerously" approaching the northwestern Bahamas Wednesday night as a Category 3 storm, but could become a Category four on Thursday, forecasters with the National Hurricane Center suggest.
Rainfall of between 6 and 12 inches is expected in the Bahamas, with an extremely dangerous storm surge raising water levels by as much as 7 to 11 feet above normal tide levels, according to the NHC.
As of 11 p.m., Irene boasted maximum sustained winds of 120 mph and even stronger gusts as it churned northwest at 12 mph.
Currently about 150 miles southeast of Nassau, Irene is expected to move through the central Bahamas Wednesday night and into the northern Bahamas Thursday.
A turn toward the north-northwest and then toward the north are expected on Thursday, though officials at the NHC said Irene was expected to stay on a track that would keep it about 200 miles east of Florida as passes Thursday.
South Florida residents can expect windswept showers and sustained winds of between 20 and 25 mph Thursday but nothing approaching tropical storm force winds, according to NHC spokesman Dennis Feltgen.
"We don't expect hurricane force or tropical storm force winds on land as far as Florida is concerned," Feltgen said.
The National Weather Service in Miami said large waves from the storm will start affecting South Florida Thursday. They will cause dangerous rip current and surf conditions, along with beach erosion in some areas.
A hurricane warning was in effect for the southeastern, central and northwestern Bahamas.
Hurricane force winds are extending outward up to 70 miles from Irene's center, with tropical storm force winds extending 255 miles.
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