Hurricane Irene is probably at its strongest moment at this writing, as a Category Two hurricane, and will become weaker over time as she moves north. However, Irene is very large and will be moving very slowly. So, which is worse? Category Two hurricane winds passing quickly through an area or Tropical Storm force winds hanging around for a day? I suppose it depends of if you are a well built jetty or a fast food sign at a strip mall.
In 24 hours from now, by late afternoon on Saturday, Irene will be a Category One storm on the sitting on top of the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Tropical Storm conditions are already present in the area and will continue through Sunday AM. Between 36 and 48 hours from now, so by Sunday night, Irene will traverse Delmarva and southern New England and New York, with the current track a little more to the west than predicted a day ago. Irene is very unlikely to be a hurricane by the time it reaches Long Island, but it will be a large, lumbering wet, windy tropical storm and will bring significant flooding to all those hilly areas in New England and eastern New York.
Likely, the real significance of this storm with respect to life and limb and to a lesser extent, property, will be the interaction between people’s expectations and ensuing actions vis-a-vis the actual wind and flooding that occurs. Your best bet is to take Irene fairly seriously and hope to later say “Oh, that wasn’t as bad as I expected.” The alternative is to take reports of Irene’s weakening to mean that you have nothing to worry about, and during the storm you go out to buy a pack of ciggs and drive through some water you didn’t realize was that deep and be washed into the river and die. Up to you. I suggest you take the former course and stop smoking, for maximum results.