Less than 24 hours before it was expected to reach Maryland, Hurricane Irene has made landfall on the Carolina coast.
The now-Category 1 storm recorded “sustained winds of 80 mph” near Jacksonville around 6:15 a.m. before hitting Cape Lookout, NC, a little more than an hour later, according to the Associated Press.
The National Weather Service has issued a hurricane warning for St. Mary’s County while a tropical storm warning has been given to Harford, Baltimore, Howard, Anne Arundel, Montgomery, Prince George's, Charles and Calvert counties, along with Washington, D.C., and jurisdictions in Virginia.
Wind gusts as high as 80 mph are expected early Sunday when the eye of the hurricane passes Maryland, according to The Weather Channel.
Justin Berk, meteorologist for Baltimore's ABC2News, predicts sustained winds of 40 mph or more for a 10-hour period late Saturday into early Sunday, along with up to six inches of rain.
“There’s going to be more in Harford and Cecil County than there’s going to be in Howard and Carroll County,” Berk told Patch. “I do expect flooding.”
The storm was about 300 miles south of Baltimore and 330 miles south of the District of Columbia as of 8 a.m.
“It’s not as strong as it was,” said Berk, who is stationed at the Hilton Hotel in Ocean City. “I honestly don’t think there’s going to be a major bay surge but part of that is because of the wind direction.”
Edward Hopkins, spokesman for the Maryland Emergency Management Agency, said the storm reaching land does not change the state’s preparation.
“The fact that it’s hit [in North Carolina], one of the things that’s good about that, it allows us to see what’s going on down there and if there’s anything we haven’t thought of or planned for,” Hopkins told Patch. “That’s not going to change our posture in how we deal with it. The storm is still going to pack a punch to Maryland.”
AccuWeather reported storm surges as high as 8.5 feet on the Carolina coast at 7:30 a.m., around the same time rainfall from Irene’s outer band reached Maryland and Delaware beaches.
The Weather Channel has issued an “extreme” threat level for Delaware, the eastern shore of Maryland up through Harford County along with parts of southern Maryland. The threat level is considered “high” from Baltimore to the District of Columbia and “medium” or “low” in the far western parts of the state.
Category 1 hurricanes are defined as having a central barometric pressure of 28.94 inches or more, winds of 74 to 95 mph and 4 to 5 foot storm surge while causing minimal damage. Irene had earlier in the week been a Category 3 storm, meaning winds up to 130 miles per hour and storm surges as high as 12 feel while causing “extensive” damage.
About 29 million people are under a hurricane warning, according to The Weather Channel.
“We’re still planning for the worst-case scenario,” Hopkins said