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Forecasters keep eye on Irene

CAPE HATTERAS – As Tropical Storm Irene continues to strengthen, her potential effects on eastern North Carolina are still unknown.

Originally projected to take a path that would lead the eye of the storm near Cape Hatteras, models are now indicating the storm could change direction.

&uot;I’m giving people the heads up and staying on top of the track right now,&uot; Northampton County Emergency Service Director Ron Storey said. &uot;The National Weather Service track is what we’re going by right now.&uot;

Storey said as of 5 p.m. Thursday, the storm was expected to come within 60 miles of Cape Hatteras, but it now seemed likely to take a northeasterly path that will keep it more than 100 miles off the coast.

&uot;Overnight it has changed direction a little bit,&uot; Storey said Friday morning. &uot;Originally we were told it would reach hurricane strength this morning, but now there are indications it could be sometime tomorrow.&uot;

According to the National Weather Service, Tropical Storm Irene was near 28.3 latitude and 66.8 longitude or about 700 miles southeast of Cape Hatteras. The storm is moving toward the northwest at 13 miles per hour. That general motion is expected to continue with a gradual decrease in forward speed.

The maximum sustained winds for Irene were at 65 miles per hour, leaving it at the Tropical Storm level as of Friday afternoon. Some strengthening is still expected and Irene could become a hurricane.

Tropical Storm force winds extend outward up to 60 miles from the center of the storm.

Further storm projections from weather.com indicate the northerly direction Irene would likely keep her off the coast of North Carolina and eventually make an eastward curve well off the Mid-Atlantic Coast.

All indications Friday afternoon seemed to be the storm would miss eastern North Carolina, but forecasters warned everyone on the east coast to stay cognizant of Irene’s progress.

Storey said he would be doing just that.

&uot;I have sent a message to all the department heads in Northampton County and we’ll continue to monitor the storm throughout the weekend,&uot; he said. &uot;It has already changed once in the last 24 hours, so we will continue to keep an eye on it.&uot;