Gordon weakens; Helene nears hurricane strength; both churn in open Atlantic far from land

Saturday, September 16th 2006, 9:05 am
By: News On 6

MIAMI (AP) -- Hurricane Gordon weakened again and Tropical Storm Helene crept toward hurricane strength Saturday as both storms churned in the open Atlantic, with neither immediately threatening land, forecasters said.

Gordon's top sustained winds were near 75 mph -- just 1 mph above tropical storm status -- down from 85 mph on Friday, according to the National Hurricane Center.

At 5 a.m. EDT, Gordon was centered about 655 miles east of Bermuda and nearly stationary. A slow northward motion was expected to develop, however. Gradual weakening was also expected.

Helene on Saturday had top sustained winds near 70 mph, up from 45 mph on Friday, and could become a hurricane, forecasters said. It was centered about 1,210 miles east of the Leeward Islands and moving west-northwest near 15 mph.

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.