It may only be moving at 13 mph, but Hurricane Earl, now a Category 4 storm (the second-highest on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale), is currently on a steady path toward the U.S. East Coast, and residents of the Carolinas are being warned to monitor its progress carefully.

"There is still considerable uncertainty as to how close the hurricane will come to the U.S. East Coast," the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.

Following Hurricane Alex and Danielle, Earl marks the third official hurricane of the Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from June through November, with the coming weeks usually the most active.

Hurricane Danielle caused rough seas, riptides and red flags along a number of shorelines this past weekend in New York and New Jersey. Hurricane Earl will come "a lot closer to the coast than Danielle" and will almost certainly bring "high tides, rough surf and significant rip currents" along Long Island and the Jersey Shore, Dennis Feltgen, a National Hurricane Center spokesman, told the Wall Street Journal.

"Anybody living on the East Coast of the United States should really be paying attention to this storm," Feltgen added.

The NHC reported this morning that the storm was 175 miles north-northwest of Puerto Rico moving west-northwest at 13 mph. It is predicted that the storm may strike North Carolina's Outer Banks by Sept. 3 , and may carry with it winds of at least 111 mph, the center predicted.

Earl is likely to pass east of the U.S. Eastern seaboard, though a direct hit remains possible with any deviation from the current track, say meteorologists.

Boston-based catastrophe modeling firm AIR Worldwide notes that, as with any significant storm,  Earl’s wrath could cause minor damage to well-constructed residential buildings and engineered structures, while significant damage could occur to poorly constructed homes and light metal structures such as warehouses.

“It is still too early to tell and there is too much uncertainty as to how close the hurricane will come to the U.S. coast,” Kevin Long, spokesperson for AIR Worldwide, told Insurance Networking News. “Earl did pass by Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands early this morning, however significant insured losses are not expected as a result of the storm.”

Recalling a not-too-distant past, many property/casualty insurers are nonetheless messaging proactive caution on hurricane preparedness via their websites and independent agents.

Hurricane Isabel struck the Outer Banks of North Carolina in 2003 as a Category 2 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, yet it killed at least 16 people and caused upwards of $3.4 billion of damage, half of it to insured property, according to the NHC. In 1996, Hurricane Fran hit North Carolina as a major hurricane, causing $1.6 billion of damage to insured property, predominantly in the Carolinas and in Virginia, says the NHC.

Behind Earl is Tropical Storm Fiona, which formed Monday over the Atlantic Ocean, and remained a “weak” system Tuesday with sustained winds of 40 mph, the hurricane center said. Fiona was 500 miles east of the Leeward Islands heading west-northwest at 24 mph, the center said at 8 a.m. Miami time. The storm is predicted to pass to the northeast on a course between Bermuda and the U.S. East coast. A hit on Bermuda remains a possibility, graphics on the center's website show.

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