Helene rated Category 3 storm, churns in open Atlantic waters

Monday, September 18, 2006

MIAMI -- Hurricane Helene strengthened Sunday into a Category 3 storm in the open Atlantic, becoming the second major hurricane of the 2006 season, forecasters said.

Helene had top sustained winds of 115 mph; hurricanes with top sustained winds of at least 111 mph are considered major hurricanes.

The hurricane did not threaten land. At 10 p.m., Helene was centered about 920 miles east-northeast of the northern Leeward Islands and moving northwest at 8 mph, forecasters said.

Hurricane Gordon, meanwhile, had been inching over the ocean at 3 mph but picked up speed Sunday, forecasters said. Its eye was centered about 1,365 miles west of the Azores and moving northeast near 14 mph.

It had top sustained winds near 80 mph, up slightly from earlier in the day.

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.

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