The fringes of a sprawling Hurricane Irene are making for a mostly gray, gloomy day in South Florida with intermittent gusty winds and bands of rain.
On the other hand, it's a heck of a lot better than being in the middle of a major hurricane, said meteorologist Robert Molleda of the National Weather Service inMiami.
Essentially, he said, South Florida has dodged a bullet.
"We're on the fringes of a major hurricane," Molleda said. "You don't want to be in the center of a major hurricane."
At 5 p.m. on Thursday, Irene was 575 miles south of Cape Hatteras, N.C. It was moving northwest at 14 mph with sustained winds of 115 mph, or category 3 strength.
The system has been battering the Bahamas for the past day, but should be north of the island chain later this afternoon. In the meantime, scores of flights between South Florida and the Bahamas have been cancelled, including 140 fromMiami International and 31 from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.
Airports in Bimini, Eleuthera, Freeport, Georgetown, Governors Harbour, Marsh Harbour, Nassau and Treasure Cay have been temporarily forced to close down.
Much of Florida's east coast can expect on-and-off-again showers and wind gusts throughout the day, with conditions easing by Thursday evening in South Florida and Friday morning in Central Florida.
Irene’s first rain band moved over South Florida at about 9 a.m. on Thursday, generating a gust of 47 mph at the Lake Worth Pier and 40 mph in Delray Beach. The rest of the region felt gusts up to 30 to 35 mph, Molleda said.
Because Irene has kicked up a dangerously high surf, Deerfield Beach closed its fishing pier at 3:30 p.m. on Thursday. The city's public beach also was closed to swimmers. Weather permitting, the pier should open on Friday morning, city officials said.
Overall, South Florida can expect between 1 and 2 inches of rain on Thursday, and that might be generous, he said.
While heavy rains are not expected in Central Florida, passing squalls could cause localized flooding along the coast. The Orlando area should see scattered showers and storms in the afternoon, the weather service said.
Irene passed about 200 miles east of Miami at about 10:30 a.m. Thursday. It is expected to be about 250 miles east of Daytona Beach Friday morning. Along the way, its maximum winds are predicted to briefly intensify to 125 mph, or what would be a top-end category 3 system.
Not many people were at the beach in Fort Lauderdale on Thursday morning because of the rain and rough surf. Red flags are flying because of the hazardous ocean conditions and purple flags are flying because of jellyfish, said city spokesman Matt Little.
Still, he said lifeguards are manning their towers and advising swimmers to be wary of strong currents.
After Irene moves north of Florida, it is expected to set up a west wind. That, in turn, should result in South Florida seeing high temperatures in the upper 90s over the weekend.
Because Irene's future track has been shifted slightly west, the threat to North Carolina and the Northeast continues to increase.
A hurricane watch has been posted for the North Carolina coast, as the storm is projected to plow over that area on Saturday possibly as a category 3 system.
In addition to the Mid-Atlantic, the Northeast is now on high alert.
Under the latest forecast, Irene would barrel right over New York City with sustained winds of between 85 and 110 mph. It's possible that the storm might be weaken, as it is expected to churn into an area of wind shear.
However, there still is much uncertainty in Irene’s long-range intensity forecast, said senior hurricane specialist Richard Pasch of the National Hurricane Center.
“Since Irene has such a large and intense circulation, it will probably be rather slow to weaken,” he wrote in Thursday morning’s advisory.
The hurricane center also is monitoring newly formed Tropical Depression 10 in the eastern Atlantic. It is forecast to grow into a tropical storm within the next day and aim north out to sea without threatening land. The next named storm will be Jose.