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Hurricane Bill weakens to Category 3, churns waves

Posted August 20, 2009 4:55 a.m. EDT
Updated August 20, 2009 7:55 a.m. EDT

— Hurricane Bill weakened slightly to a Category 3 storm early Thursday over the open Atlantic with top sustained winds of 125 mph.

"Bill still looks like an impressive storm," WRAL meteorologist Elizabeth Gardner said. "The wind speed is only down about 10 mph hours, as of the 5 (a.m.) advisory, compared to last night."

Forecasters said the storm could regain power in the next 24 hours, while dangerous waves and riptides were likely along most of the eastern U.S. coast over the weekend.

"It's about to move into some warmer waters, so that should help it regenerate into a Category 4" later Thursday or Friday, Gardner said. Category 4 storms have winds between 131 mph and 155 mph.

Bermuda was near the projected path of the major storm and may be placed under a hurricane or tropical storm watch later Thursday, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

The center's five-day track for Bill showed the storm staying well out to sea off the southern and northern U.S. coast. Bill was forecast to pass between Bermuda and the Carolinas Saturday and inch closer to shore as it moves north but only come close to landfall in Canada's Maritime provinces before veering back out into the North Atlantic.

Large swells created by the storm would affect the northern Leeward Islands, the Bahamas, Bermuda and most of the eastern U.S. coast during the next few days.

North Carolina's coast could feel the effects of Bill on Saturday.

"It's that rip current danger that will be the big thing this weekend," Gardner said. "Just be careful. I'd put off swimming."

Rip current safety tips

Bill could also bring heavy surf, waves between 5 and 10 feet and beach erosion, particularly along the Outer Banks.

Early Thursday, Bill was centered about 325 miles north-northeast of the Leeward Islands and about 790 miles south-southeast of Bermuda. The hurricane is moving northwest near 18 mph.