East Coast Braces for Hurricane Irene

Major cities on the Eastern Seaboard are in Irene's path.

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Time's running out for east coasters to grab their beer and bread and brace themselves for Hurricane Irene, a category 2 storm.

"The outer bands of this storm are already reaching the U.S. coast. People have to realize that the window of opportunity to prepare for this storm is rapidly closing," says Stu Ostro, a senior meteorologist at the Weather Channel.

Ostro says he's talked to many who blow off the hurricane because of its classification as a category 2 storm and adds that is a big mistake. Irene has the same width of tropical storm force winds as did Katrina when it made landfall near New Orleans in 2005.

The storm is expected to hit the eastern shores of North Carolina early Saturday morning east of Morehead City. The storm's winds were blowing Friday at 100 miles per hour as it inched offshore the Carolinas. [Read Susan Milligan: Earthquake Reaction Shows DC Unprepared for Terror Attack]

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg ordered a mandatory evacuation of the city's low-lying areas— an unprecedented call for the city, which displaced more than 250,000 people from their homes. The city's subway system was set to close in advance of Irene's expected arrival Sunday morning.

"We are preparing in every way possible in anticipation for Irene," says Steve Coleman of the New York Port Authority. President Obama, meanwhile, moved up his return from vacation on Martha's Vineyard, Mass.

While a storm of this magnitude is rare for the city of New York, the city's emergency planning team developed a coastal storm protocol in 2006 after watching New Orleans get pounded by Katrina's devastating wind, floods and rainfall.

Airports in New York began preparing for the storm Friday by stocking hundreds of cases of bottled water, cots, blankets and diapers to give to stranded passengers. [Read Alvin Felzenberg: Earthquake Response Shows We Haven't Learned Lessons of 9-11]

Port Authority officials are also checking sump pumps in anticipation for heavy rainfall, reviewing high-wind procedures for tunnels and bridges and preparing themselves for potential traffic restrictions.

Jeff Masters, cofounder of Weather Underground, says Irene's biggest threat is the amount of water it will send inland.

"The main issue is the strong storm surges and freshwater flooding we are going to see," Masters says.

Masters says he's concerned about the infrastructure along the mid-Atlantic coast.

"It's just not built to withstand these kinds of storms," he says.

The region is already saturated following heavy rainfall this month. A new moon and high tides this weekend all compound the possible damage and make it one of the five biggest storms the coast has ever seen.

"All the conditions are just right or wrong for the perfect storm," he says.

In Virginia and Washington, D.C., meteorologist Jim Lee says that this is not going to be a normal weekend. He encourages area-residents to be prepared for winds to be between 40 and 45 miles per hour, falling trees and power outages.

"The thing to be aware of is that this is not a typical weekend," he says. "Use common sense and be ready with flashlights, food and water."

Shoppers packed Trader Joe's, a D.C. grocery store Friday afternoon, but while the lines were long, customers kept their cool. [Read Ken Walsh: Obama Not Taking Any Chances Hurricane Irene Becomes His Katrina]

"I'm not worried," shopper Jodi Anderson said. " I think this is mostly hype. I just thought it wouldn't hurt to have some extra stuff just in case."

And, with warnings coming from meteorologists everywhere, she might have the right idea.

"I'm not prone to hyperbole so when I say this hurricane represents an extraordinary threat, I don't say it lightly," Ostro said.

Corrected on : Corrected on 08/26/11: An earlier version of this article misstated the year the Katrina hit near New Orleans.