National and local weather officials and others are keeping their eyes on Hurricane Earl, which at the beginning of this week was churning in the Caribbean. By Tuesday, Aug. 31, it was a category four storm on the Saffir-Simpson scale, with maximum sustained winds of 135 mph, and was expected to remain at that strength “for the next day or two,” according to the National Hurricane Center.

The storm was predicted to pass well to the east of the Turks and Caicos Islands Tuesday night and northeast of the Bahamas on Wednesday.

A tropical storm warning is in effect for the Turks and Caicos Islands, and a tropical storm watch is in effect for the southeastern Bahamas, while the hurricane warning for Antigua, Barbuda, Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis has been downgraded to a tropical storm warning.

The Maine Emergency Management Agency in Augusta Monday afternoon said that based on current model projections, it is possible that the effects of Earl will impact at least the coastal regions of the state late this week and into the weekend. EMA officials are urging Mainers to pay close attention to weather forecasts, and to observe all safety precautions, including thinking about what needs to be done in case Earl does strike the state, which is now within the five-day impact cone.

“Although the accuracy of tracks this far in advance is difficult to determine, it is essential that everyone begins to follow the weather reports closely,” said MEMA Director Rob McAleer. He noted that as of that date, the storm was already a Category 3 hurricane and that “conditions are favorable for continued strengthening.”

Even if the hurricane does not strike Maine directly, it is very likely the state will experience threats such as increased wave height and long-period coastal swells, high surf, large breaking waves and dangerous rip currently along the shoreline.

“Large waves and crashing surf are spectacular to watch, but these same waves can strike suddenly with tragic results,” said McAleer. This time last year, on Aug. 23, in the wake of Hurricane Bill, a 20-foot wave at Thunder Hole in Acadia National Park swept several people into the water and resulted in the death of a 7-year-old girl.

“Park Rangers and public safety officials work hard to protect people from the dangerous areas, but we all share a responsibility to act with extra caution,” said McAleer.

At 5 p.m. Tuesday, the eye of Hurricane Earl was north of Puerto Rico. It was moving toward the northwest at around 15 mph, and was expected to turn gradually to the north-northwest. The National Weather Service has issued a hurricane watch for North Carolina between Surf City and the Virginia Border, including Pamlico and Albemarle Sounds. In addition, a tropical storm watch is in effect for the area between Cape Fear and Surf City in North Carolina.

Monday the NWS issued a statement saying the National Hurricane Center’s average track forecast errors are 200 to 300 miles at days four and five. “Given this uncertainty, it is too soon to determine what portion of the U.S. East Coast might see direct impacts from Earl,” said NWS officials.

The Portland NWS office said in its forecast regarding the hurricane Tuesday evening, “Right now it is safe to say that northern New England should expect to see some rain bands affect the area on Friday and Saturday. This will bring heavy rain and gusty winds to some area, and although the center of the storm may move to the east, the rain and wind can still impact areas far from the center.”