A rapidly strengthening Hurricane Irene roared off the Dominican Republic's northern coast yesterday, whipping up high waves and torrential downpours on a track that could see it reach the US Southeast as a major storm by the end of the week. Irene grew into a Category 2 hurricane late yesterday, and the US National Hurricane Center in Miami says it could reach Category 3 as early as today and possibly become a monster Category 4 storm within 72 hours.
"We didn't anticipate it gaining this much strength this early," a center meteorologist says, adding that the ocean's warm temperatures and the current atmosphere are "very conducive" to energizing storms. Forecasters said Irene could still be very powerful when it slams into the US, possibly landing in Florida, Georgia, or South Carolina. Irene is expected to rake the Turks and Caicos and the Bahamas today and tomorrow. The storm cut power to more than a million people in Puerto Rico when it hit the island yesterday. (Read more Hurricane Irene stories.)