Hurricane Bill, the first hurricane of the 2009 Atlantic season, gained strength quickly as it churned across open ocean Monday in the direction of Bermuda, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.
Two other tropical cyclones, Ana and Claudette, were fading; Ana in the Caribbean Sea just south of Puerto Rico, and Claudette in the southern United States after slogging ashore on the Florida panhandle.
Bill’s top winds reached 90 miles per hour , just below Category 2 on the Saffir-Simpson scale of hurricane intensity, the Miami-based hurricane center said. Forecasters expected it to hit Category 3, with winds of more than 110 mph by late Tuesday or early Wednesday.
Category 3, 4 and 5 storms are considered “major” hurricanes, the most destructive type.
Bill was about 1,080 miles east of the Lesser Antilles at 11 a.m. EDT and was charging to the west-northwest at 16 mph, the hurricane center said.
On its most likely track, Bill would move well north of the northernmost Caribbean islands toward the U.S. East Coast, forecasters said. The hurricane center’s long-range track showed it southwest of Bermuda by Saturday morning.
Tropical Storm Claudette hit the U.S. Gulf of Mexico coast near Fort Walton Beach in the Florida panhandle early Monday and quickly weakened to a tropical depression as it moved over southern Alabama.
Florida emergency managers reported sporadic power outages but no widespread damage. They cautioned residents to watch for rising rivers and flooding in low-lying areas.
CLAUDETTE MISSES ENERGY FACILITIESClaudette, which sprouted with surprising speed on Sunday in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, missed the largest concentration of U.S. oil and gas production platforms, which stretch along the coast from Mobile Bay, Alabama, to Brownsville, Texas.
The Gulf is home to almost half of U.S. refinery capacity, a quarter of oil production and 15 percent of natural gas output.
Tropical Depression Ana doused Puerto Rico with heavy rain on Monday as it charged through the Caribbean Sea to the west-northwest at a brisk 28 mph, the hurricane center said.
It was located about 75 miles south of San Juan Puerto Rico and had top winds of 35 mph, forecasters said.
A tropical storm watch was in effect for Puerto Rico, the U.S. and British Virgin Islands and parts of the Dominican Republic, although forecasters said Ana could degenerate further on Monday. NHC website: http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/
(Additional reporting by Scott DiSavino in New York; editing by Pascal Fletcher and Phil Stewart)
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