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Katia roars to hurricane strength with 75 mph winds

Katia became the second named hurricane of the season in the Atlantic Ocean on Wednesday, but forecasters said it was too soon to determine where it might head.
/ Source: staff and news service reports

Katia roared into the Atlantic's second named hurricane of the season Wednesday night, but forecasters said it was too early to know if it would threaten land.

Meanwhile another mass of thunderstorms in the western Caribbean had a 30 percent chance of becoming a tropical storm and could move into the Gulf of Mexico, forecasters said.

At 10 p.m. ET, Katia had sustained winds of 75 miles per hour and became the second hurricane of the June-through-November Atlantic hurricane season. The category one storm was about 1,875 miles east of the Leeward Islands. It was moving rapidly west-northwest at 20 mph, and was forecast to turn northwest in a couple of days on a course that would keep it away from the Caribbean islands.

No coastal watches or warnings were in effect.

Katia was forecast to then become a major hurricane with winds over 111 mph on Sunday, but it was still too early to tell whether it would threaten land.

The National Hurricane Center cautioned the public — still recovering along parts of the East Coast from Irene — not to stress over the storm yet, even though it's over warm waters and in a low wind shear environment, two ingredients that could propel it to become a major hurricane.

"It's got a lot of ocean to go. There's no way at this point to say if it will make any impacts, let alone when it might make them," said Dennis Feltgen, a meteorologist and spokesman at the National Hurricane Center. "There's a reason we don't do forecasts more than five days in advance — the information just isn't good. The error beyond that just isn't acceptable."

Some models showed Katia veering away from the East Coast. But Feltgen said it's simply too soon for coastal residents to tell.

"Folks along the East Coast shouldn't be getting a lot of heartburn over this — not yet," he said.  

Hurricane Irene rampaged up the U.S. East Coast over the weekend and authorities on the U.S. Atlantic seaboard are keeping an eye on Katia to see which path it takes.

Long-range computer models, which can be off by hundreds of miles, show Katia nearing the mid-Atlantic island of Bermuda in about a week. Several models turned it north away from the U.S. East Coast.

The Atlantic hurricane season typically brings 11 or 12 named storms. Katia is already the 11th, and with half of the season still ahead it is shaping up to be the unusually busy year that was predicted.

The storm's name replaces Katrina in the rotating storm roster because of the catastrophic damage from the 2005 storm that devastated New Orleans and the coast.

In the Gulf of Mexico, energy companies were keeping watch on a mass of thunderstorms in the northwest Caribbean Sea.

The National Hurricane Center said there was a 30 percent chance of it developing into a tropical storm in the next two days. Earlier Wednesday, the chances were just 10 percent.

BP on Wednesday became the first major oil producer to say it was already evacuating some workers from offshore platforms in the Gulf because of the weather system, which would be dubbed Lee if it becomes a named storm.

Royal Dutch Shell said later it too was preparing to evacuate some workers, while other companies said they were monitoring the system closely.

National Weather Service meteorologist Fred Zeigler said the system could bring rain to coastal Mississippi and Louisiana but it's too early to tell whether it will mean anything worse.

Most models used to track such systems are struggling to predict whether it will move toward Brownsville, Texas, or the Florida Panhandle, he said.

Meantime, a tropical depression in the Pacific has fallen apart over southwestern Mexico with winds dropping and the hazard dissipating.