Hurricane Irene is crossing the Outer Banks of North Carolina this morning and continues to jog up the East Coast on a track expected to bring the storm across Long Island and north through New Hampshire and Maine Sunday, according to the National Weather Service in Gray.

The storm’s forward progress sped up overnight to about 15 mph, which means the hurricane will likely cross over northern New England at about 5 p.m. tomorrow, hours before Sunday’s 11 p.m. high tide, said meteorologist Margaret Curtis.

Curtis said Irene’s winds are currently blowing at about 75 mph, but she expects the storm will lose some punch as it makes landfall in the Carolinas. Irene could still gain some strength, but Curtis said it will likely downgrade to a tropical storm Sunday.

The Weather Service predicts wind gusts in Maine could reach 60 mph Sunday, and seas in the open ocean could climb as high as 25 feet. Ocean-facing beaches in York County and Cape Elizabeth will likely be battered by waves as high as 20 feet, said Curtis. She added that erosion and flooding are likely.

The wind is expected to increase Sunday morning in Southern Maine to 20 to 30 mph, with gusts reaching 40 mph by 4 p.m.

Curtis said the storm could produce 4 inches of rain in Southern Maine, more than forecasters initially expected. Highest rainfall will likely occur in western Maine – areas around Rangely and Jackman. The southern coast could receive 2 to 4 inches, and Downeast regions will likely see the least rain.

Mainers continued to prepare for the storm today, making early morning runs to local stores for provisions.

Tim Currier, manager at Maine Hardware on St. John Street, said batteries, flashlights, candles and lamp oil have been selling briskly. The store even sold a few chain saws to customers concerned about trees falling.

“People are trying to get prepared. It’s been pretty active,” Currier said. “It’s been a nice little rush this morning.”