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Hurricane Katia seen missing U.S. East Coast

Sep 5, 2011, 10:11 a.m.
Hurricane Katia is seen from a window of the International Space Station in this NASA handout picture taken August 31, 2011 and released on September 1, 2011. REUTERS/NASA/Handout

By Pascal Fletcher

MIAMI (Reuters) - Hurricane Katia may power up to a major Category 3 storm on Monday, but is expected to veer away from the East Coast later this week, avoiding a direct hit on a seaboard already battered by earlier Hurricane Irene.

The National Hurricane Center warned however that U.S. East Coast beaches should still watch out in the coming week for large swells generated by Katia which could cause life-threatening coastal surf and rip currents.

"Even though these storms may stay offshore, they still can be a deadly threat, especially to people going to the beach ... That would be the greatest threat" from Katia, NHC hurricane specialist Robbie Berg told Reuters.

"It may be a beautiful nice day out and you may just not know that there are rip currents there that can pull you out to sea," he added.

Forecasters and residents of the U.S. Atlantic seaboard have been keeping an anxious eye on Katia after Hurricane Irene raked up the East Coast from the Carolinas to Maine last weekend. It killed at least 40 people and caused extensive flooding, especially in New Jersey and Vermont.

Katia, the second hurricane of the June-through-November Atlantic season, had kept forecasters guessing for days about its potential threat to the United States.

Berg said the latest five-day forecast predicted the hurricane would swing north and then northeastward from Thursday in between Bermuda and the U.S. mainland, pushed away from the East Coast by a developing low pressure trough.

This would guide the storm around a ridge of high pressure in the central Atlantic known as the Bermuda High.

"The steering flow right now is pushing the storm to the northwest but once it gets closer to the East Coast, it'll start feeling the effects of that trough a little bit more, and it's going to make that sharp turn around the Bermuda High and head out northeastward over the open Atlantic," Berg said.

U.S. COAST, BERMUDA MAY FEEL KATIA WINDS

At 11 a.m. EDT, Katia was a Category 2 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson intensity scale, carrying winds of 110 miles per hour (175 km per hour).

Its center was located about 540 miles south of Bermuda, the mid-Atlantic British overseas territory which despite its small size is a global reinsurance hub.

The Miami-based hurricane center said Katia was expected to strengthen and could become a Category 3 hurricane with winds of at least 111 mph later on Monday.

Berg said there was still a one in 10 chance parts of the East Coast could experience tropical storm-force winds when Katia passed well offshore later this week, especially jutting coastal areas like North Carolina's Outer Banks and Cape Cod in Massachusetts. Bermuda could also experience such winds.

Tropical Storm Lee tested New Orleans flood defenses at the weekend, and on Monday its weakened remnants threatened to dump heavy rain on states from Texas to Florida.

Forecasters have predicted a very active 2011 Atlantic season with between eight and 10 hurricanes, above the long-term June to November average of six to seven hurricanes.

(Editing by Mohammad Zargham)

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