Irene slightly weaker; warning area extends up NJ coast

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Hurricane Irene has weakened slightly as it approaches the East Coast, where a hurricane warning has been extended up the Jersey Shore, as well as through Northeastern New Jersey, including Bergen, Essex, Passaic, Hudson and Union counties.

A hurricane warning is now in place for Atlantic, Cape May, Camden, Ocean, Cumberland, Monmouth, Gloucester, Burlington and Salem counties ahead of Irene. The warning means that hurricane winds of at least 74 miles per hour are expected within 36 hours.

A hurricane warning has also been issued for Middlesex County, while a tropical storm warning has been issued for Mercer, Somerset, Hunterdon, Morris, and Western Passaic counties. A tropical storm warning means that winds will be slightly slower than in a hurricane warning, but still with heavy rain.

Meanwhile, Irene's maximum sustained winds have decreased to 100 mph. The National Hurricane Center says some strengthening is possible and that Irene is expected to be near a Category 2 storm as it reaches North Carolina's coast.

The National Hurricane Center is predicting a storm surge will raise water levels by as much as 3-6 feet above ground level along the Jersey Shore. This would be accompanied by large waves and dangerous rip currents.

News 12 New Jersey Meteorologists Dave Curren and Michele Powers say Irene is expected to produce 5-10 inches of rain in New Jersey, with isolated spots seeing more. Widespread flooding is also possible.

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