Emergency officials from Florida to the Carolinas were closely watching Irene Tuesday as the first hurricane to seriously threaten the U.S. in three years churned over energizingtropical waters. The storm has already cut a destructive path through the Caribbean.
Forecasters say the hurricane could grow to a monstrous Category 4 storm with winds of more than 131 mph before it's predicted to come ashore this weekend on the U.S. mainland. The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami expected Irene to reach Category 3 strength on Tuesday, said spokesman Dennis Feltgen.
Officials could begin issuing watches for parts of the U.S. mainland later in the day. Because the storm is so large, Florida could begin feeling some effects from the storm late Wednesday.
Current government models have the storm's outer bands sweeping Florida late this week before it takes aim at the Carolinas this weekend, though forecasters caution that predictions made days in advance can be off by hundreds of miles. Georgia is also likely to be affected.
The last hurricane to make landfall in the U.S. was Ike, which pounded Texas in 2008.
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