HURRICANE Irene intensified to category three status tonight as it bore down on the Bahamas on a path that could see it slam into the US mainland, US forecasters said.
At 10pm (AEST), Irene was packing winds of 185 km/h and was located about 85 kms southeast of Acklins Island, Bahamas, where authorities braced for its imminent arrival, the National Hurricane Center said.
“Irene becomes a category three hurricane,” the centre said. “Eye headed for the Crooked and Acklins Islands.”
The upgrade made Irene, the first hurricane of the Atlantic storm season, a major hurricane.
“Data from an air force reserve hurricane hunter aircraft indicate that the maximum sustained winds have increased to near 185 km/h with higher gusts,” it said.
The hurricane is on a track to curve up the eastern seaboard of the US, possibly making landfall in the Carolinas on Saturday, but also on a track that could sweep by Washington, New York and Boston.