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Hurricane Center director predicts 'big impact'

National Hurricane Center Director Max Mayfield says Hurricane Isabel could cause widespread damage.
National Hurricane Center Director Max Mayfield says Hurricane Isabel could cause widespread damage.

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MIAMI, Florida (CNN) -- As Hurricane Isabel approaches the Eastern United States, the National Hurricane Center maintains a constant watch on its progress. The center's director, Max Mayfield, spoke to CNN anchor Lou Dobbs on Monday.

DOBBS: Give us your best guidance as to where Isabel is going to make land.

MAYFIELD: Well, Lou, in addition to those recon flights that we have from [the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] and the Air Force flying into the hurricane, since Saturday, we have also been flying the NOAA jet aircraft -- it's a Gulfstream 4 airplane -- and one of the Air Force C-130s, not through the hurricane, but in the environment around the hurricane, to sample the steering currents.

And then all that data gets fed into the computer models to help give us a forecast. So most of the models are very consistent in hitting the hurricane towards the North Carolina coast and then on northward through Pennsylvania and New York, eventually up into Canada. The really important thing here is that this is not only a powerful Category 3 hurricane, but it's a large hurricane.

The tropical storm force winds extend out about 200 miles away from that eye. So what that means is that, at least if we're close on our forecast back here, the storm-force winds are likely be getting near the North Carolina coast as early as late Wednesday, probably Wednesday near midnight, and then the center itself near the coast sometime around noon on Thursday. So people really have Tuesday and Wednesday to make their preparations.

DOBBS: Max, how large is the eye of this hurricane?

MAYFIELD: It is varied, but it kind of averages between 30 and 40 miles in diameter. And that is a large eye. And what that means is, the strong winds are in that eye wall that doughnuts around the eye. So that really covers a large area. The hurricane-force winds go out 100 miles in every direction from the eye. So it is going to have a big impact.

This hurricane, if it makes landfall as a major hurricane, has the potential to cause extensive damage over large sections of the United States, from North Carolina northward.

DOBBS: And this has been twice now a Category 5 hurricane, sustained winds over 156 miles an hour. Is it your sense this hurricane is going to ebb further in strength or there any likelihood here that it will regather its strength?

MAYFIELD: We really don't think it will.

The most likely thing, it may even weaken a little bit more. But the wisest thing to do, everywhere from North Carolina through southern New England, is go ahead and prepare for a major hurricane, for a Category 3 hurricane.

DOBBS: And it is your judgment right now that this hurricane is headed to North Carolina. Is it squarely headed for the Outer Banks?

MAYFIELD: Well, it is right now.

But because it is so large, it will have a real impact all the way up through the Delmarva [Peninsula] and even up to the New Jersey coast and even some impact up into Long Island. But, again, it doesn't take much difference. Just a little difference in that track there and it could easily come onto the Delmarva Peninsula dead on or a little bit to the left of the track there. We make a five-day forecast every six hours.

We'll likely see some changes. But right now, we're very concerned from North Carolina northward.

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