Hurricane Earl upgraded as winds reach 140 mph

By Rob Stein and Michael Savage
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, September 2, 2010; 12:37 PM

Hurricane Earl swirled toward the East Coast on Thursday with treacherous winds and driving rain, forcing thousands of vacationers to evacuate parts of the Outer Banks and setting in motion a flurry of preparations to minimize damage as far north as Maine.

The National Weather Service restored Earl to a Category 4 hurricane late Wednesday when its winds increased to 135 mph. Coupled with heavy rain, Earl's winds threaten extensive destruction depending on how close they come to shore. By Thursday the winds had increased to 145 mph.

"This is a dangerous situation," said Gladys Rubio, a meteorologist at the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

Earl is expected to approach the vulnerable Outer Banks on Thursday night and the Delmarva Peninsula by Friday.

Forecasters were trying to determine whether the storm would stay offshore as it headed up the Northeast coast or bring hurricane-force winds to Long Island and the New England coastal area. A hurricane warning--which means hurricane conditions, including winds of at least 74 mph, are expected within 36 hours --was issued Thursday morning for the Connecticut and Massachusetts seaboards, including Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket.

In Ocean City, Md., a sprinkle of tourists lined the main drag Thursday as families and couples strolled toward the boardwalk with towels and beach chairs in tow. The soft breeze and clear blue sky was no indication of the rain and high winds expected to whip through the area within hours. Hurricane Earl will pass through, about 200 miles from the town's coast, beginning early Friday morning and continuing until Friday afternoon.

"It's a fast-moving storm, hopefully it'll just blow past," said town spokeswoman Donna Abbott.

A hurricane watch--meaning that hurricane conditions are expected within 48 hours-- is in effect, and residents are being asked to stay indoors during the storm.

Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) and Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) have declared states of emergency, and O'Malley is advising travelers not to drive to or from Ocean City during the height of stormy weather Friday.

Beaches in Virginia, Maryland and Delaware are likely to see one to two inches of rain, winds of 30 to 40 miles per hour and gusts of up to 55 miles per hour, forecasters said. Strong waves, dangerous rip currents and possibly minor coastal flooding also are likely.

Good weather is expected to return for the weekend.

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