Hurricane Irene looks set to slam the east coast of the US by the weekend as images filmed from space by Nasa show the mindblowing size of the storm as it crosses the Bahamas.

Pictures from the International Space Station, filmed 200 miles above the earth’s surface, showed an enormous cyclonic cloud gathering pace as it heads for the US.

Tourists flee Florida ahead of Hurricane Irene
Hurricane Irene set for east coast

Hurricane Irene has now been strengthened to a Category Three storm, as 120mph winds batter the Caribbean. However, there are warnings that the storm could be upgraded to a Category Four by the time it hits the US coast.

Hurricane Irene pictures by Nasa
Hurricane Irene sweeps past the Bahamas in pictures released by Nasa

Category Four are those which have winds of up to 155mph.

East coast residents and tourists are already feeling as Irene approaches.

Forecasters fear Irene could hit New York and Philadelphia, with its predicted path crossing popular tourist destinations on the coast of Carolina.

Some parts of North Carolina have ordered tourists to evacuate, while some residents are leaving by choice.

Hurricane Irene from space
Satellite image provided by the Nasa Goddard Space Flight Center show the eye of the storm moving towards the US

People living on the coast have been stocking up with food, water and plywood to board up windows.

Emergency response centres up and down the east coast will stay open around the clock.

Even if the eye of the storm remains offshore, cities like New York are in for a battering with rain and winds strong enough to knock out power, trigger coastal storm surges and cause flooding.

Hurricane Irene

Hurricane Irene is the strongest storm to threaten the US since Hurricane Wilma 2005.

Irene is currently sweeping across the Bahamas and is then predicted to arc north, passing over North Carolina and striking southern New England on August 28 or 29.

“Irene is a massive hurricane and that’s what’s so bad for the Bahamas,” said Dave Samuel, a meteorologist at AccuWeather Inc.

“We’re just watching it decimating Crooked Island of the Bahamas, Cat Island looks like it will be in the wheelhouse tonight, and Eleuthera is just going to get smashed. It is moving slow and it is huge.”

Nasa captures the storm from orbit.