The first hurricane of 2011 does not appear to be headed for the Gulf of Mexico, but the U.S. East Coast could be in for a tough week as the storm intensifies and moves north, tropical forecasters said Monday.

Hurricane Irene was located about 150 miles west-northwest of San Juan, Puerto Rico on Monday afternoon and was moving west-northwest at 12 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center (NHC). Irene was a Category One hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 80 mph, and the system was expected to strengthen over the next few days. NHC expected Irene’s core to move to the north of Haiti and the Dominican Republic Monday, near the Turks and Caicos Islands and the southeastern Bahamas Tuesday and near the central Bahamas early Wednesday. NHC’s longer-term forecast calls for the eye of the storm to move north off the coast of Florida Thursday and Friday and possibly make landfall in South Carolina Saturday morning.

The Carolinas, especially coastal areas and barrier islands, “should begin making preparations for a possible hurricane landfall that brings 100-mph winds or greater, storm surge flooding, torrential rainfall and possible tornadoes,” said.

“Given the setup in the atmosphere, as well as where hurricanes have traveled from similar starting points — negotiating the Antilles — Irene may take a path similar to Hurricane Bertha in 1996,” said senior meteorologist Alex Sosnowski.

Irene is the ninth named storm of the 2011 Atlantic hurricane season and the year’s first hurricane. Energy interests in the Gulf of Mexico have so far this year been spared any damage from tropical storms.

NHC on Monday said Tropical Depression Harvey was weakening over southern Mexico, while a large low-pressure system located about 575 miles northwest of the northernmost Cape Verde Islands was given only a 10% chance of becoming a tropical cyclone.

Irene is the fourth named storm to form since forecasters earlier this month predicted a ramping up of tropical activity (see Daily GPI, Aug. 12). WeatherBELL Analytics chief meteorologist Joe Bastardi last week said he expected tropical storm activity in the Atlantic Basin to increase, with a frenzy of named storms resulting in multiple hurricanes between Aug. 25 and mid-September (see Daily GPI, Aug. 17).’s extended forecast calls for a total of 15 named storms — including eight hurricanes, three of them intense — to form this year (see Daily GPI, April 1), and other forecasters — including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (see Daily GPI, Aug. 5), WSI Corp. (see Daily GPI, July 27), Colorado State University (see Daily GPI, June 2) and MDA EarthSat (see Daily GPI, May 18) — have also predicted above-average tropical storm activity in the Atlantic Basin.

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