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Hurricane Irene Looms Off Carolina Coast

Updated from 12:04 p.m. EDT with latest forecast from the National Weather Service and Subway shutdowns

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Tropical storm-force winds began to batter the coast of North Carolina on Friday afternoon as Hurricane Irene descended upon the East Coast.

The brunt of the storm was expected to strike in the evening as a trough of low pressure was projected to intersect Irene and push it north with New York City lining up for a direct hit.
Hurricane Irene downgraded to a Category 2 Hurricane on Friday.

Hurricane Irene lost a slight amount of intensity on Friday as of 2:00 p.m. EDT with sustained winds at about 100 mph, but little change in strength was expected for the next 24 hours.

Since Thursday night's 115 mph winds, Irene has weakened a bit but the National Weather Service said the path of the hurricane remained relatively unchanged in the Atlantic Ocean as the storm pattern continued to move toward the North Carolina coast.

Irene carried sustained winds of 110 mph at 8:45 a.m. EDT, which dropped it to a Category 2 hurricane after it failed to gain as much strength in the warm Bahamas waters that meteorologists originally forecast.

"All indications point to this being a historic hurricane," President Barack Obama told the press from his vacation home in Martha's Vineyard, Mass. "The federal government has spent the better part of last week... to see to it that we are prepared."

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg made the unprecedented choice call for the mandatory evacuation of three neighborhoods by Saturday, and said that the entire subway system would begin to shut down at noon the same day.

Scenes at Rockaway, Queens after Hurricane Donna made landfall on Long Island as a Category 2 in 1960

"Weakening does not mean weak," Chris Vaccaro, a spokesman for the National Weather Service, told TheStreet. He said that Irene had winds of 115 mph to 120 mph for some time on Thursday, but added that the difference between the impact of 115 mph winds and 100 mph winds for the size of this storm was "academic."

Hurricane warnings stretched from North Carolina all the way up to New Jersey, and a watch was in effect from the New York/New Jersey border to the Massachusetts/New Hampshire border.
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