Tropical Storm Katia may become a hurricane today in the Atlantic, raising its maximum winds from the current 60 mph, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.
Katia, about 885 miles west of the southernmost point of Cape Verde, is “racing” west-northwest at 22 mph, according to an advisory at 11 p.m. Eastern time Tuesday by the Miami-based center. A tropical storm becomes a hurricane when its winds reach 74 mph.
The water below Katia is about 82 degrees Fahrenheit and there is low wind shear, which can tear at a storm’s structure, according to an analysis yesterday by Richard Pasch, a forecaster at the hurricane center. Katia’s top winds increased 20 mph over the course of the day.
“Katia continues to look more impressive on satellite images,” Pasch said in an earlier advisory. “Steady strengthening appears to be likely.”
Computer forecast models suggest Katia will turn to the Northern Atlantic, a maneuver meteorologists refer to as recurving. The move would mean Katia would miss the United States, which was struck last weekend by Hurricane Irene, a storm that killed at least 40 people, cut power to 8 million homes and businesses, and caused an estimated $7 billion in damage.
“Katia is way, way, way out there,” said Tom Downs, a meteorologist with Weather 2000 Inc. in New York yesterday. “It is premature to discuss where it is going, but things suggest it will recurve. Five days from now we will have a better idea.”
Downs said the key will be if Katia drifts to the northwest as it moves across the ocean. Such a track would suggest the storm eventually turns and misses the U.S., he said. A more westerly track might mean trouble, he said.
Katia is the 11th named storm of this Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to Nov. 30. The average hurricane season usually produces that total, according to the hurricane center.
Last year, 19 storms formed in the Atlantic and pre-season forecasts all called for this season to be above average.
Winds of at least 39 mph now stretch 85 miles from Katia’s center. The hurricane center projects Katia’s top winds will reach 120 mph in five days, making it a major Category 3 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale.
The hurricane center also is watching a disorganized band of thunderstorms in the Caribbean between the Yucatan Peninsula and Cuba. The area has a 10 percent chance of organizing into a tropical system in the Gulf of Mexico in the next two days, according to the center.
Commodity Weather Group LLC President Matt Rogers said he was watching that system because he believed it may turn into a tropical depression or tropical storm by the weekend. He said it was only a 5 percent threat to oil and gas interests. The Gulf is home to 31 percent of U.S. oil output and 7 percent of natural gas.
In the Pacific, the hurricane center is tracking an area of stormy weather about 100 miles south of Zihuatanejo, Mexico, that has a 60 percent chance of becoming a tropical depression in the next two days.
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