* Northeast turn expected on Thursday -hurricane center
* Any delay in turn occurring could worsen storm effects
MIAMI, Sept 1 The head of the U.S. National Hurricane Center said on Wednesday he was highly confident Hurricane Earl would veer to the northeast starting late on Thursday, which should keep the worst of the storm from the U.S. East Coast.
Still, the Category 3 storm is expected to bring extremely high waves, surf and rip currents to the U.S. East Coast in the coming days, Hurricane Center Director Bill Read told reporters in a conference call.
Earl, currently churning through the open Atlantic east of the Bahamas, had top sustained winds of 125 mph (205 kph), with hurricane-force winds extending outward up to 90 miles (150 km). Its tropical storm-force winds reached out as far as 200 miles (325 km).
The storm was expected to approach close to North Carolina's Outer Banks island chain late on Thursday. While the expected northeast turn at that point should keep the center of Earl at sea and parallel to the U.S. eastern seaboard, any delay in the turn would mean greater weather impact for coastal areas, Read said.
"If the turns occur a little bit later than we're forecasting it could bring more of a threat at that time to extreme eastern Long Island or southeastern New England," the hurricane center chief said.
Read said Earl was producing "incredibly high seas" as it barreled across the Atlantic. A 50-foot wave was registered overnight by a U.S. weather service buoy.
Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate said U.S. President Barack Obama had been briefed on emergency preparations for Earl's approach.
There was a possibility Earl could intensify.
"The chance over the next 24 hours of a change in intensity on the upscale still exists. We're over the warmest water," Read said. (Reporting by Pascal Fletcher and Tom Brown; Writing by Kevin Gray; Editing by Pascal Fletcher and Bill Trott)