The height of hurricane season is upon us. Exhibit A: Hurricane Irene.
As a Category 1 storm, Hurricane Irene moved over Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Haiti, the Turks and Caicos islands and, as a Category 3 hurricane, the Bahamas. It's been blamed for several deaths and significant damages.
Now, as a Category 1 hurricane, Irene has moved over North Carolina's Outer Banks and is on its way up the Mid Atlantic coast toward New York City, and then on to New England. The National Hurricane Center, states and local communities have announced warnings, watches, evacuations and other alerts for coastal North Carolina, Virginia, Delaware, Maryland, Washington, D.C., New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine, as well as areas and other states well inland.
An estimated 65 million people could be affected. Rain, wind and especially storm surge from Hurricane Irene pose significant risk. It's size is impressive, and worrying: Tropical storm-force winds stretch for 260 miles from the center of the storm, in every direction. Hurricane-force winds extend an incredible 90 miles in all directions from the eye of the storm.
It's going to be one hell of a weekend on the East Coast, and experts are warning people to take precautions. Heed evacuation warnings, secure loose items and prepare emergency kits that include food, water, flashlights and other essentials. Consult this Federal Emergency Management Agency guide for details.
> Related: Emergency Supply Kit Checklist
The Carolinas are no strangers to major hurricane strikes. While Florida, Louisiana and Texas have had the most major hurricane landfalls recorded since 1851, North Carolina, with 12, and South Carolina, with 6, rank fourth and sixth on the list of states most prone to major hurricane strikes. Hurricanes in New England are less common, but not unheard of. Here's a look at some of the notable hurricanes to strike the region.
1938 New England Hurricane, which made landfall on New York's Long Island, killed as many as 800 and caused damages that would be valued today at nearly $5 billion (about $300 million at the time).
1944 Great Atlantic Hurricane, which scraped the Outer Banks before making landfall on Long Island, killed 390 people and caused $100 million in damages at the time.
Hurricane Carol, which in 1954 killed 65 people and caused $460 million in damages.
Hurricane Donna, which in 1960 killed 365 people and caused $900 million in damages.
Hurricane Connie, Ione and Diane, which all struck North Carolina in 1955, and together were responsible for 84 deaths and $872 million in damages.
Hurricane Gloria, which in 1985 killed eight and caused $900 million in damages.
Hurricane Bob, which in 1991 caused $1.5 billion in damages and killed at least 15 people.
Hurricane Emily, which in 1993 killed three and caused $50 million in damages.
Hurricane Fran, which in 1996, caused $4.2 billion in damages and killed 27 people.
(Photo at right: Hurricane Irene moving over Puerto Rico as a Category 1 hurricane, by NASA)
Hurricane Bonnie, which in 1998 killed at least three people and caused an estimated $1 billion in damages.
Hurricane Floyd, which in 1999 killed 56 people in the U.S. and caused up to $6 billion in damages.
Hurricane Isabel, which in 2003 killed 17 people in the U.S. and caused at least $3 billion in damages.
Hurricane Hazel, which in 1954 was blamed for 195 deaths in the U.S. and Canada, as many as 1,000 in Haiti, and more than $380 million in damages.
Hurricane Hugo, which in 1989 was blamed for 21 deaths in the U.S., 29 throughout the Caribbean and a total of about $8 billion in damages.
Hurricane Charley, which in 2004 made its second U.S. landfall in South Carolina, after first hitting the Gulf Coast of Florida. In all, Charley was blamed for 10 U.S. deaths and five between Cuba and Jamaica. It caused $15 billion in damages, ranking it among the Top 10 most costly hurricanes in U.S. history.
(Photo at right: Hurricane Irene, Aug. 25, by NOAA)
Why is Hurricane Irene so strong? That has everything to do with the heat content of the ocean, which is high, as is typical for this time of year. This NOAA map shows the heat in the Atlantic basin.
The map at the top of the page shows the National Hurricane Center's latest forecast for where Hurricane Irene's path will take her. Below is a NASA animation showing where she's been.
This animation shows Tropical Storm Harvey making landfall in Belize while Hurricane Irene forms to the east and passes over Puerto Rico. The animation, by NASA's GOES-13, covers Aug 19-22, 2011.
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