Irene is now a Catagory 2 hurricane as it brushes by North Carolina's Outer Banks. Mandatory evacuations have been ordered there and elsewhere up the Atlantic Coast, but there are some indications that Irene is tracking further to the East and may begin to lose its punch when it comes on shore early on Saturday. Both are good signs, but the threat of destructive storm surges remains. As noted here, people in Irene's path should plan for the worst, especially if storm surge predictions hold true for shore communities and cities on major rivers. (That is the reason Mayor Bloomberg has ordered all New York City nursing homes to be evacuated.)
I suppose we can be thankful that the Republicans have not managed to get the National Weather Service and its National Hurricane Center despite their spotty track records. The NWS website is endlessly fascinating and one graphic in particular -- an interactive storm surge map -- is a must-see if you live in or near potentially affected areas.