Hurricane Katia intensifies over open Atlantic

Sep 4, 2011, 9:51 a.m.

MIAMI (Reuters) - Hurricane Katia intensified over the open Atlantic on Sunday, bulking up to a powerful Category 2 storm, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

The Miami-based hurricane center said it was still too soon to gauge the potential threat to land or to the U.S. East Coast from the storm, but cautioned that it was well worth keeping an eye on Katia due to a westward shift in its track over warm seas.

"It would be a good idea for people on the (U.S.) East Coast just to keep watching this storm," said Robbie Berg, an NHC hurricane specialist.

"There is so much uncertainty in this forecast, it's really too early to say what kind of impacts we might see," Berg told Reuters.

At 11 a.m. EDT, Katia had top sustained winds of 100 miles per hour (160 km per hour) and was located about 360 miles northeast of the northern Leeward Islands, the NHC said.

It said Katia could become a "major" hurricane by Monday, with maximum sustained winds of at least 111 mph.

Uncertainty over the storm's track was partly due to Tropical Storm Lee over the Gulf of Mexico and the effect it could have on Katia's circulation later this week, Berg said.

Hurricane expert Jeff Masters said Katia posed no immediate danger to any land areas but stressed that it could definitely threaten the U.S. coast late this week.

"It's likely that locations on the U.S. coast south of North Carolina will not receive a direct hit from Katia, but the entire coast from North Carolina northwards to New England and Canada's Maritime Provinces is definitely at risk," Masters wrote in his Weather Underground blog.

"By Tuesday morning, the entire U.S. East Coast will see high surf from Katia, and these waves will increase in size and power as the storm grows closer," Masters said. "The storm will probably cause extensive beach erosion and dangerous rip tides for many days," he added.

Several U.S. states, including New Jersey and Vermont, are still recovering from extensive flooding caused by Hurricane Irene, which rampaged up the East Coast a week ago.

Katia is the second hurricane of the June-through-November Atlantic hurricane season. The season is now entering what has traditionally been its most active period.

(Reporting by Tom Brown; Editing by Eric Beech)

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