Hurricane Irene, the first storm of the 2011 Atlantic hurricane season, has set its sights on the U.S. East Coast. It appears Irene will take a path into the Carolinas by the coming weekend, according to

By Wednesday morning, the storm had grown in intensity and is now classified as a major category 3 hurricane, packing winds of 115 mph. According to the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami, additional strengthening was forecast Wednesday.

People in the eastern part of the Carolinas, especially coastal areas and barrier islands should begin making preparations for a possible hurricane landfall that brings 115-mph winds or greater, storm surge flooding, torrential rainfall and possible tornadoes. People in these areas should be prepared to evacuate in case the order is given, according to the AccuWeather report.

"Since Irene is moving away from the Greater Antilles over warm open waters, the storm is likely to intensify," said hurricane expert Dan Kottlowski. In addition, the storm could spread damage and bring coastal flooding into the mid-Atlantic late this weekend and into southern and eastern New England by early next week.

Over the weekend, South Carolina will likely deal with the same coastal effects as eastern Florida and southeast Georgia but eastern North Carolina will deal with a direct hit from Irene causing destructive winds, flooding rains, high storm surge and coastal flooding, battering waves and deadly rip currents, according to

Even though Irene is expected to miss Florida and Georgia to the east, it is a larger-than-average hurricane, so coasts of both states will still see some impacts, including gusty winds, squally showers, dangerous surf and strong rip currents,

North Carolina ranks in the top 4 states in the number of billion-dollar weather-related disasters since 1980. In 1999, 110,000 hogs died, and manure spills resulted following Hurricane Floyd. In 2004, Hurricane Charley attained 150 miles per hour winds, making it a strong Category 4 hurricane.

Read more on Hurricane Irene

See hurricane preparedness recommendations.

Source:,, National Hurricane Center