Irene: Duke, Durham should escape with conditions no worse than a good thunderstorm. Storm weakens as it nears Outer Banks.

✔✔✔Following includes the 2 AM Saturday update from the National Hurricane Center.

Downed trees. Some wires. Some flooding. That's the most likely scenario for Duke and Durham.

In fact, the city is so confident that it has held off opening its emergency command post -- and it's allowed 11 firefighters trained in search and rescue to go to Rocky Mount in preparation for deployment to the coastline. Another team could go, too, if the situation warrants.

At Duke, aside from the Marine Lab in the ocean town of Beaumont, which is evacuated until further notice, the big news is the early return of upperclassmen. Vice President for Student Affairs Larry Moneta blasted e-mail on Tuesday offering everyone the chance to come early to avoid the hurricane on Saturday. Only incomplete totals are available: 671 students moved into West starting Thursday. We do not know if that includes all of Friday. And the PR department made no numbers available for Central campus.

As FC has previously noted, the University changes the URL for storm advisories every time there is an update. We consider this particularly dumb; we give you the latest available, not at all confident if you look that it will not have been superseded.


Durham forecast: peak winds between 1 and 5 PM Saturday. Sustained around 30 mph, gusts to 55. The amount of rain expected has increased dramatically from earlier forecasts, which is good given the medium drought in the area. New prediction: 2 to 5 inches. Old prediction 1 inch.

The National Hurricane Center has not focused precisely on where Irene may landfall -- saying only southeastern North Carolina. Nor is there a precise time beyond saying in the afternoon.

As of 2 AM Saturday, the storm had lost a bit of power, its sustained winds now 90 miles an hour versus 100 three hours earlier. Still gusts to 125 though.

The storm h as returned to the 14 mile an hour forward pace it's had for much of its life. The movement three hours earlier was 13 miles an hour.

There's still plenty of wind, rain, and surge to go around. "The hazards are still the same," Hurricane Center specialist Mike Brennan said. "The emphasis for this storm is on its size and duration, not necessarily how strong the strongest winds are."

The Hurricane Center updates these statistics every three hours.

After blasting North Carolina's beaches, the storm will follow the coast-line north, where extensive preparations are underway. In New York City, 370,000 people have been ordered out of their homes. These include some low-lying areas, plus Battery Park City, a nest of high-rises built on landfill over New York harbor. The big fear is flooding and a storm surge.

The mandatory evacuations are unprecedented. So is the total shut down of the city's mass transit system at noon Saturday. No subways. No city buses. No suburban buses. No suburban trains. All airports are closed. In Atlantic City, New Jersey, for only the third time since gambling became legal 33 years ago, all casinos are closed.

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