State News

Hurricane Bill now Category 3 storm in Atlantic

Posted August 18, 2009 5:06 p.m. EDT
Updated August 18, 2009 10:57 p.m. EDT

— Bill became a major hurricane far out in the Atlantic on Tuesday, with winds whipping near 125 mph, WRAL meteorologist Mike Maze said.

Hurricane hunter planes found that Bill, the first hurricane of the Atlantic season, had strengthened to a Category 3 storm Tuesday night.

Just before 11 p.m. Tuesday, Bill was centered about 640 miles east of the Leeward Islands.

The National Hurricane Center said people in the Leeward Islands should monitor Bill's progress.

"The wind sheer is light and the waters are warm," said Todd Kimberlain, a forecaster at the center. "Those are two essential ingredients not just for the formation, but also the maintenance, of hurricanes."

The most significant threat the storm seemed to pose was to Bermuda, which it could pass in three or four days, Kimberlain said. But it also could move directly between Bermuda and the eastern coast of the U.S. without making landfall.

Either way, people near the coast can expect wave swells and rip currents in the next few days, Kimberlain said.

Bill was more than 2,000 miles from Raleigh Tuesday night, but by the weekend, visitors to North Carolina's beaches could see some effects, Maze said.

"While winds may extend only 100 to 150 miles from the center, wave heights can extend more than 300 miles from the center," he said.

Maze forecast the waves could reach 10-15 feet along the shoreline of North Carolina by Saturday evening. "That may cause some beach erosion and some overwash of the Outer Banks," he said.

Meanwhile, people in flood-prone Haiti and the Dominican Republic awoke to good news Tuesday as it appeared Ana, the first named storm of the Atlantic season, had largely spared their shared island.

The two countries that share the island of Hispaniola are vulnerable to storms, with many impoverished people clustered along rivers, but there were no reports of major damage from the remnants of Tropical Storm Ana. The system had been downgraded to a tropical depression and then largely dissipated before reaching Haiti and the Dominican Republic, but its rains were still considered a potential threat.

"The rain fell but it did not hit anywhere very hard," said Marie Alta Jean-Baptiste, director of Haiti's civil protection department.

Haiti is particularly susceptible to catastrophic flooding because most of the trees have been stripped away to make charcoal and clear farmland and the bare, mountainous terrain cannot hold back the water. A series of storms last year killed hundreds of people and left thousands struggling to find food.

Forecasters had revised their Atlantic hurricane season predictions for this season after the first two months passed without any named storms developing.