Helene strengthens slightly but still in open Atlantic. Like Gordon, churns far from land

Sunday, September 17th 2006, 7:00 am
By: News On 6

MIAMI (AP) _ Hurricane Helene strengthened slightly and Hurricane Gordon picked up a bit of speed Sunday, but both storms were in the open Atlantic, hundreds of miles from land, forecasters said.

Helene had top sustained winds of 85 mph, up from 80 mph on Saturday, according to the National Hurricane Center. It is the fourth hurricane of the season.

At 5 a.m. EDT, Helene was centered about 980 miles east of the northern Leeward Islands and moving northwest at 9 mph, forecasters said.

Neither hurricane posed an immediate threat to land.

Gordon had top sustained winds near 75 mph. Its ragged eye was centered about 670 miles east of Bermuda and moving north at 6 mph after moving only at about 3 mph on Saturday, forecasters said.

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

Scientists said this week 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 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists 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.