MIAMI (AP) _ Tropical Storm Florence, chugging through the open Atlantic, was expected to strengthen and veer toward Bermuda and away from the East Coast, forecasters said Friday.
Florence was expected to hit the Bermuda area Sunday or Monday, and it could strengthen into a hurricane by then. Early Friday, it was still relatively weak with maximum sustained wind near 50 mph.
While forecasters at the National Hurricane Center said Florence posed no danger to the U.S., its large size could create high surf and rip currents along parts of the East Coast. Tropical storm force wind extended up to 405 miles from Florence's center.
Florence was expected to start veering away from the U.S. coast in about 2 days, senior hurricane specialist Jack Beven said.
At 11 a.m. EDT, the storm was centered about 730 miles south-southeast of Bermuda and about 1,345 miles east-southeast of Miami. It was moving west-northwest at about 17 mph.
The hurricane center said in an advisory that the storm ``appears ready to strengthen.''
``We don't know exactly how strong it's going to get, but this is something to which people should pay close attention,'' said Dr. Lou McNally, of the Bermuda Weather Service. ``Preparations should be well under way.''
Florence developed in the peak of hurricane season over warm Atlantic water, the source of energy for storm development this time of year. While those waters are warm enough to spur storm intensification, forecasters said they are not as warm as last year's storm season, which had a record 28 named storms and 15 hurricanes, including Katrina.
The 2006 Atlantic hurricane season has not been as rough as initially feared. The National Hurricane Center lowered its forecast in August to between 12 and 15 named storms and seven to nine hurricanes.
Florence follows on the heels of Tropical Storm Ernesto, which was briefly the season's first hurricane before weakening and blowing up the East Coast last week. The storm was blamed for nine U.S. deaths, delayed the launch of the space shuttle Atlantis and blacked out thousands of homes and businesses from North Carolina to New York.