Category 3 Hurricane Helene could threaten Bermuda late in the week

Monday, September 18th 2006, 6:30 am
By: News On 6

MIAMI (AP) _ Hurricane Helene continued to gain strength as a Category 3 storm in the open Atlantic on Monday, and forecasters said it could threaten Bermuda at the end of the week.

It was too soon to tell whether Helene would hit Bermuda, but the storm with top sustained winds of 125 mph was expected to be near the island Friday, said Chris Landsea, a meteorologist with the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

Helene strengthened late Sunday into the second major hurricane of the Atlantic season with 115 mph winds and intensified even more early Monday. Major hurricanes are those Category 3 and higher.

At 11 a.m. EDT, it was centered about 900 miles east-northeast of the northern Leeward Islands and about 1,090 miles east-southeast of Bermuda. It was moving northwest at 9 mph and was expected to make a gradual westward turn but remain over open waters, forecasters said.

Meanwhile, Hurricane Gordon picked up speed over the open Atlantic. The hurricane could pass over the Azores as a weaker storm sometime midweek, so forecasters said a tropical storm watch or warning may be required later Monday for the islands in the central Atlantic.

It was centered about 1,125 miles west of the Azores and moving northeast near 20 mph, up from 14 mph Sunday. Gordon, the other storm to reach Category 3 status this year, had top sustained winds near 90 mph Monday.

The National Hurricane Center's latest forecast for the Atlantic season expects between seven and nine hurricanes, a slight reduction from earlier predictions.

Scientists have said that weak El Nino conditions had inhibited hurricane development by bringing higher ocean temperatures that increase crosswinds over the Caribbean. The winds can rip storms apart or stop them from forming.

But the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has warned that the El Nino effect on hurricanes has been small so far. And the season, which lasts until Nov. 30, is still at its traditional peak.