Hurricane Irene has churned into a stronger Category 2 storm and has cut a destructive path through the Caribbean as it heads toward the U.S. coast.
Forecasters at the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said Monday night that a hurricane hunter aircraft measured maximum sustained winds of 100 mph.
The projected path of Hurricane Irene continues to shift northeast. The National Hurricane Center's released its newest forecasted path at 5 p.m. Monday, which brings the storm's center closer to the North Carolina coast.
The National Hurricane Center shows the storm making landfall on either the SC or NC coast near Myrtle Beach and Wilmington, NC. The center line projected path is just an estimate and the average track can change 200 miles in each direction.
Earlier Monday, the track of Hurricane Irene took the storm toward Edisto Beach as a Category 3 major hurricane. The newest models show Irene weakening slightly as it nears the U.S. Coast. It is projected to make landfall as a category 1 hurricane.
Emergency agencies in South Carolina are going on heightened alert as Hurricane Irene churns to the south and forecasters predicting it could hit South Carolina this weekend.
The center line projected path is just an estimate and the average track can change 200 miles in each direction.
The State Emergency Management Division has increased its state of alert, notifying key state agencies to review their hurricane preparedness plans and to be on call.
Charleston County has also increased its operational readiness.
Officials there say there's the possibility of an emergency or disaster and county employees who work in the emergency operations center have been placed on alert.
Officials have warned residents to monitor Irene closely. It has been six years since a hurricane hit the South Carolina coast, said Joe Farmer of the state Emergency Management Division.
Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester Counties have moved to OpCon 4 status, which means they are monitoring the storm and planning ahead.
Charleston County Emergency Management Division Director Cathy Haynes said Monday that she was concerned about complacency given that Charleston has been relatively lucky in terms of hurricanes lately.
She also cited high population turnover as a worrying situation, as many Lowcountry residents may not have experienced a hurricane before.
"We don't expect to this to get ripped up over the mountains of Hispaniola," said Dennis Feltgen, a spokesman for the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami. "We expect it to remain a hurricane."
The U.S. National Hurricane Center projected that Irene could grow into a Category 3 hurricane with winds of 115 mph (184 kph) over the Bahamas on Thursday. And it may carry that force northwest along Florida's Atlantic coast and toward a possible strike on South Carolina, though the forecasters warned that by the weekend, the storm's path could vary significantly from the current projection.
"Hurricane preparations are pretty much the order of the day," said Mike Geier, radiological emergency preparedness planner. "We go through a pretty extensive checklist. It's probably three pages long."