Hurricane Irene was forecast to sweep over the Outer Banks of North Carolina overnight Friday and advance into the Washington area with a vanguard of showers beginning Saturday afternoon.
Early Friday morning, the National Weather Service upgraded the Tropical Storm Watch issued for much of the D.C. area to a Tropical Storm Warning. Meanwhile, Irene weakened slightly to a Category 2 storm as it approached the East Coast, where a hurricane warning was also extended to New Jersey.
If the hurricane stays on track, the worst of Irene will arrive in Virginia, Maryland and the District later Saturday and into Sunday morning. Late-summer vacationers evacuated Atlantic coast beaches, which are expected to be hit hardest before the storm wallops New England.
The intensity of the storm and the shift in the forecast track farther to the west prompted the decision to delay the memorial dedication, said Harry E. Johnson Sr., chief executive of the memorial project foundation.
“I’m disappointed and hurt, really,” Johnson said. “But the memorial is going to be there forever.”
Johnson said the change might allow those who planned to travel to stay home and for those in Washington to leave ahead of the storm.
Governors along the coast, including those in Virginia and Maryland, declared states of emergency Thursday, and thousands of weekend events were canceled.
“This is a large, this is a deadly, this is a slow-moving hurricane that is bearing down on the state of Maryland,” Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) said in declaring an emergency. “There will no doubt be a lot of flooding. Citizens should anticipate long periods of electrical outages.”
A significant storm surge is expected to flood coastal areas, and wind-driven flooding may occur along the shores of the Chesapeake Bay. The worst of the weather is likely to be east of the Interstate 95 corridor, which may get four to six inches of rain, prolonged winds of 50 to 70 mph, and gusts of 90 to 100 mph, according to meteorologists with The Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang.
Amtrak canceled train departures from Southeastern states and curtailed some service in the Northeast. Airports said they expected flight delays and cancellations through the weekend, with many airlines allowing fliers to change their plans without penalty.
An endless stream of vacationers rolled across the bridge out of Ocean City, on Thursday evening, and homeowners rushed in the opposite direction to board up their rental properties. Ocean City was one of many resort areas where evacuation was mandatory.
Colleges on the verge of opening for the fall semester warned students to delay their arrival, and the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg told its students to go home.