Hurricane Gordon weakens into Category 1 storm in Atlantic as it churns toward Azores islands

Tuesday, September 19th 2006, 10:53 am
By: News On 6

MIAMI (AP) _ Hurricane Gordon weakened Tuesday as it sped toward the sparsely populated Azores islands, which were under a hurricane warning, while powerful Hurricane Helene was expected to stay out at sea, forecasters said.

Gordon was downgraded to a Category 1 hurricane with top sustained winds near 85 mph, down from a Category 2 with 100 mph winds earlier in the morning, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

At 11 a.m. EDT, it was centered about 455 miles west of a U.S. Air Force base in the Azores off the Atlantic coast of Africa, and moving east at near 31 mph.

Gordon was expected to retain hurricane strength as it neared the islands off the Atlantic coast of Africa later Tuesday, forecasters said. Two to 4 inches of rain were expected, with higher terrain possibly getting 6 inches.

Forecasters said Gordon should then be absorbed by a larger weather system that was expected to approach northwestern Portugal and Spain on Thursday.

Meanwhile, Hurricane Helene had top sustained winds near 115 mph with strengthening expected over the next 24 hours, forecasters said.

``It's forecast to pass several hundred miles east of Bermuda in two to three days,'' said Dan Brown, a meteorologist at the hurricane center. ``It will likely stay far enough east where they won't feel too much effects. They may get a little bit of a breeze.''

Helene strengthened late Sunday into the second major hurricane of the Atlantic season. Major hurricanes are those Category 3 and higher.

At 11 a.m. EDT, it was centered about 895 miles east-southeast of Bermuda in the open Atlantic. It was moving west-northwest near 9 mph and was expected to continue on the same path into Wednesday, forecasters said.

The Atlantic hurricane season began June 1 and ends Nov. 30. September is traditionally one of the busiest months of the season.