Are you ready for Hurricane Irene?S

Hurricane Irene, which satellite observations reveal is already a third the size of the U.S. East Coast, has already smashed through the Bahamas and is bearing down on Florida. It's expected to slam the southeast for the next few days, working its way up to New York and eventually becoming a torrential rainstorm in the Boston area.

Several states, including North Carolina and Virginia, have already declared a state of emergency and are ordering evacuations. New Jersey could be next. Are you prepared?

If you are in the hurricane zone, please check evacuation reports on your local news sites and read NOAA's guide to hurricane preparedness (you can also get the same information in videos, both in English and Spanish).

Are you planning to travel anywhere to or from the East Coast over the next four days? Bloomberg News says you may want to change your plans — your airline may have already canceled your flight. Many carriers are offering travelers a chance to rebook flights for free.

Are you ready for Hurricane Irene?S

If you're out of danger, you can watch a mesmerizing, real-time update on the hurricane's progress via the New York Times.

Or you can take a fascinating look at where hurricanes have started in the Atlantic over the past 60 years. Created by the Caribbean Hurricane Network, this series of maps helps us predict future hurricanes on a monthly basis by tracking where they started over time.

A relatively small number of weather conditions are required for hurricanes to form, though we don't entirely understand why they form sometimes and not others. One of the main requirements is warm ocean water, which is why environmental scientists worry that global warming will cause more hurricanes.

You can get blow-by-blow updates from NASA (including pictures from space), and maps of changing wind conditions from NOAA.

Did you know that Bill Gates took out a patent on geoengineering technology that could stop hurricanes before they start? Scientific American's Christopher Mims reports here.

Want to know what the biggest and most intense hurricanes were? Of course, Wikipedia explains it all to you. And by the way, they are called tropical cyclones, not hurricanes, OK?