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Hurricane Irene has makings of an historic storm

There can be no denying it now: Hurricane Irene has historic potential.

CBS News Hurricane Consultant David Bernard, who's also a meteorologist for CBS station WFOR-TV in Miami, says it's time to start comparing it to the big ones that raked the East Coast, like Hurricane Carol in 1954, a Category 3 storm that ran over Long Island into New England and brought massive storm surge, as well as Hurricane Bob in 1991, one of the costliest hurricanes in New England history.

Based on the current storm track projections, Bernard says there are two scenarios shaping up: Bad and worse.

The bad scenario cuts the hurricane across Long Island and into New England as a large and strong Category 2 storm. This scenario brings tremendous storm surge on the back bays of Long Island and from the ocean. Massive power disruption and tremendous wind damage will result.

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The worst scenario has the hurricane hug the coast all the way to New York City. This would bring tremendous storm surge and wind damage affecting everything from Maryland, right up to the Hudson Valley and across New England.

The "out to sea" option, where most hurricanes build steam heading north but ultimately fade out into the Atlantic, is fading fast.

The economic implications of a massive storm surge, heavy rains, and winds that could top 100 mph, are profound, especially in an area so densely populated, and largely unused to big storms.

Although some projections say Hurricane Irene could grow to a category 4 on its way north, the storm will likely not maintain Category 3 strength as it encounters relatively cooler water. However, because it will be accelerating and the pressure field is so large, it could have Category 3-like effects if and when it makes landfall in the Northeast. The official forecast keeps it as a strong 2 at landfall in the Northeast.

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