<img src="http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/storm_graphics/AT07/refresh/AL0710W5_NL+gif/143514W5_NL_sm.gif" border="0" width="260" height"208" align="right"> (2 p.m. EDT) -- Dangerous Hurricane Earl continues to spiral toward the East Coast of the United States, where it is expected to bring heavy winds and rain, and trigger huge waves and dangerous rip currents in time for Labor Day weekend travel. In anticipation of the storm's U.S. arrival, a number of cruise lines have made itinerary changes for ships on Canada and New England cruises, and vessels based in northeast U.S. homeports.

The center of Earl, however, is still forecast to stay offshore as the cyclone twists up the East Coast, but forecasters say that even a small change in course could result in the storm coming ashore. Earl's eye is expected to pass near North Carolina's Outer Banks later tonight and approach southeastern New England Friday evening. Reuters is reporting that the head of the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said on Wednesday that he was "highly confident Hurricane Earl would veer to the northeast starting late on Thursday, which should keep the worst of the storm from the U.S." Even so, the governors of North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland have declared states of emergency.

According to the NHC's 2 p.m. advisory, Earl, the Atlantic season's fifth named storm, has weakened slightly and is now packing maximum sustained winds at 125 miles per hour. Some fluctuation in intensity is being forecast for today, and storm is expected to gradually weaken starting today and tomorrow. Earl is moving toward the northwest at a 18 m.p.h. clip, and is currently located some 245 miles south of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, and 720 miles south-southwest of Nantucket, Massachusetts.

Storm warnings and watches are currently in place along the East Coast from North Carolina to Nova Scotia, including Long Island and the Jersey Shore. (For specific information on watches and warnings, please visit the NHC's Web site.)

Meanwhile, several U.S. airlines have warned that storm conditions may impact East Coast arrivals and departures. Continental and AirTran have even announced that they will wave flight change fees on a temporary basis.

Cruise Ship Itinerary Changes, Impacted Ports

Hurricane Earl Changes: Canada & New England Cruises, Northeast Homeports
Hurricane Earl Changes: Caribbean Cruises
Damage Report: Caribbean Ports in the Aftermath of Hurricane Earl

Weather Outlook: Next Affected Ships & Ports

The latest NHC projections have Hurricane Earl brushing the East Coast of the United States and Canada on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The first tendrils of the storm are currently forecast to reach the coast of North Carolina later today, and Earl is then expected to move roughly parallel to the East Coast on Friday and Saturday.

We'll keep you posted.

--by Dan Askin, Associate Editor, Cruise Critic

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