Hurricane Irene is projected to brush Florida.

Hurricane Irene is projected to brush Florida. (National Hurricane Center)

What is now Hurricane Irene plowed over Puerto Rico early on Monday, leaving considerable damage, and continued its march toward Florida.

How close the system will get to the state's shoreline remains in question.

Under the latest projections, it would draw within 100 miles of Miami by Thursday evening, brush the Treasure Coast and hug the coastline as it moves north toward Georgia.

That would be close enough to bring hurricane conditions to South Florida's coastal areas and rough weather to the rest of the region, starting Wednesday night and through the day on Thursday.

It would be close to bring squally weather to the Orlando area on Friday morning.

The forecast calls for Irene's maximum sustained winds to intensify to 100 mph, or Category 2 strength, as it draws close to Miami. If it remains over water, it could grow into a major hurricane on Saturday, when it is expected to be near the Florida-Georgia border.

Of some consolation for Florida: At least for now, Irene's core is small, with hurricane force winds extending only 15 miles from its center. That likely will grow, however, as the system intensifies.

Tropical force winds extend 150 miles from its center. Its worst weather spreads northwest and northeast of its core.

Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center note their predictions still hold much uncertainty, and things could change. Potentially the track could still shift farther to the east, reducing the state's risk - or back to the west, which could put the core inland.

Irene intensified into the first hurricane of the season at 5 a.m. on Monday while it was over Puerto Rico. According to initial reports, the storm knocked down lines and trees and left about 800,000 people without power.

At 9 a.m., the system in the Atlantic about 105 miles east of Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, moving northwest at 14 mph with sustained winds of 80 mph.

The projected path now takes Irene along the north coast of Hispaniola on Monday, near the Turks and Caicos on Tuesday, in the Bahamas on Wednesday and approaching southeast Florida by Thursday afternoon.

Because the system is not expected to remain over Hispaniola as long as initially forecast, it likely will intensify into a stronger storm, hurricane specialist Stacy Stewart wrote in Monday's advisory.