Hurricane and tropical storm watches were issued Thursday morning for the Carolinas coast, as large and powerful Hurricane Irene continued slowly moving toward expected landfall Saturday on the Outer Banks.
Mandatory evacuation orders were issued on some parts of the Outer Banks, and more of those are expected later in the day.
Hurricane Center meteorologists said they still expect Irene to be a major hurricane -- probably with 115 mph winds, which it had Thursday morning -- when it reaches the North Carolina coast.
Meteorologists warned the public not to pay too much attention to the hurricane's exact predicted path, saying the storm is very large. Hurricane-force winds extended outward 60 miles, while tropical storm-force winds were blowing 230 miles from the center. That means if Irene were to skirt the Outer Banks, areas well inland could experience damaging winds.
The hurricane watch is in effect from Surf City northward to the North Carolina-Virginia border. That covers the Outer Banks, along with Albemarle, Currituck and Pamlico sounds.
In addition, a tropical storm watch has been posted from Edisto Beach, S.C., north to Surf City. That includes the Grand Strand and Wilmington.
At 5 a.m., the center of Hurricane Irene was at 24.6 degrees north and 76.2 degrees west, of 80 miles east-southeast of Nassau in the Bahamas. That location also was 735 miles south of Cape Hatteras.
Irene had top winds of 115 mph and was moving to the northwest at 12 mph.
North Carolina's Outer Banks began going into shutdown mode Wednesday, and that was stepped up Thursday.
Dare County ordered a mandatory evacuation of all visitors, starting at 8 a.m. Thursday. Typically, about 150,000 visitors are in the county each week in the summer. In addition, the Dare County and Currituck County schools were closed today, and the Dare system said it also will be closed Friday.
Evacuations already began Wednesday morning on Ocracoke Island, at the southern end of the Outer Banks in Hyde County.
Officials in Carteret, Currituck, Hyde and Pamlico counties said they will decide today on possible evacuations.
On Wednesday, some on the Outer Banks were preparing for the inevitable evacuation orders.
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