Hurricane Earl becomes major category three storm as it nears the Virgin Islands

August 30th, 2010 - 10:31 pm ICT by BNO News  

MIAMI (BNO NEWS) — Hurricane Earl strengthened into a major category three storm as it neared on the Virgin Islands, forecasters said on late Monday morning, and said the storm may eventually pose a threat to the U.S. East Coast.

Forecasters at the Miami-based U.S. National Hurricane Center had been following the system since Monday last week when it emerged off the African coast since. Since then, it became more organized and eventually developed into a tropical storm and eventually a hurricane.

As of 11 a.m. EDT (0900 GMT), Earl is located about 150 kilometers (95 miles) east-northeast of the island of St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, or 265 kilometers (165 miles) east of San Juan on Puerto Rico.

Forecasters at the Miami-based U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) said Earl has maximum sustained winds near 120 miles (195 kilometers) per hour, and higher gusts, making it an extremely dangerous category three storm. Additional strengthening is forecast in the next hours, and Earl could become a category four hurricane by Tuesday.

“The low shear and warm water environment ahead of Earl appears conducive for additional strengthening during the next few days,” said forecaster Brown. “This supports keeping Earl at major hurricane strength during that time, although eyewall cycles could induce some fluctuations in intensity.”

The NHC said Earl is moving toward the west-northwest near 24 kilometers (15 miles) per hour, with a turn toward the northwest expected on Tuesday. “The center of Earl will pass near or over the northernmost Virgin Islands this afternoon and this evening,” Brown said.

Brown said hurricane force winds extend outward up to 95 kilometers (60 miles) from the center of Earl, and tropical storm force winds extend outward up to 295 kilometers (185 miles).

As of 11 a.m. EDT (0900 GMT), a hurricane warning is in effect for Anguilla, Saint Martin, Saint Barthelemy, St. Maarten, Saba, St. Eustatius, the British Virgin Islands, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Puerto Rican islands of Culebra and Vieques.

Additionally, a hurricane watch is in effect for parts of Puerto Rico and a tropical storm warning is in effect for Antigua, Barbuda, Montserrat, St. Kitts, Nevis and parts of Puerto Rico. A tropical storm watch is also in effect for the Turks and Caicos Islands.

“Hurricane conditions will be spreading across the northern Virgin Islands during the next few hours,” said Brown. “Tropical storm conditions will spread over portions of Puerto Rico this afternoon, with hurricane conditions possible this evening and tonight. Strong winds ,especially in gusts, are likely over elevated terrain in Puerto Rico.

The storm surge is expected to raise water levels by as much as 3 to 5 feet above ground level primarily near the coast in areas of onshore wind within the hurricane warning earl, Brown added, who said a 1 to 3 feet rise is expected in the tropical storm warning area. “The surge will be accompanied by large and dangerous battering waves.”

Earl is also forecast to produce heavy rainfall over the Leeward Islands, where 4 to 8 inches is expected. The Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico could see maximum amounts of up to 12 inches, especially over higher elevations. “These rains could cause life-threatening flash floods and mudslides,” Brown warned.

Starting late Thursday or early Friday morning, Early may begin to affect the U.S. East Coast from North Carolina to the north. By that time, Earl is forecast to be a category three hurricane.

But forecaster Brennan said it is not yet known how badly the U.S. East Coast may be hit, if it all. “This is a good time to remind everyone that NHC average track forecast errors are 200 to 300 miles (321 to 482 kilometers) at days 4 and 5. Given this uncertainty, it is too soon to determine what - if any - parts of the U.S. East Coast might see direct impacts from Earl later this week,” Brennan said.

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