Hurricane Igor packs a punch

Hurricane Igor churned westward in the Atlantic Ocean as a dangerous Category 4 storm and could strengthen in the coming days, forecasters said late on Monday.

Igor was strong enough to cause catastrophic damage but posed no immediate threat to land or energy interests. It was too soon to rule out an impact on the U.S. East Coast, but the chances of such a landfall were viewed as slim.

The powerful hurricane had top sustained winds of 140 miles (220 km) per hour and could intensify in the next couple of days, forecasters at the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

All the computer models keep Igor in the Atlantic and away from the Gulf of Mexico, where US oil and gas operations are clustered.

Behind Igor, Tropical Storm Julia developed over the far eastern Atlantic Ocean on Sunday, becoming the 10th named storm of the 2010 Atlantic hurricane season.

Igor, the fourth hurricane of the 2010 Atlantic season, was centered 785 miles (1,260 km) east of the Caribbean's northern Leeward Islands at 11 p.m. EDT (0300 GMT), the Miami-based center said.

Although Igor seemed to be nearing its peak intensity, it wouldn't take much to boost it into a Category 5 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale of hurricane intensity, with winds topping 155 mph (249 kph).

Igor was moving west and was expected to turn west-northwest by Tuesday. Computer models disagreed on how sharp a turn Igor would take, said Michael Brennan, a senior hurricane specialist at the center.

A west-northwest track would take it near Bermuda on Saturday, but a sharper northerly turn would keep it over the open Atlantic.

"Bermuda's probably at the greatest risk of seeing an impact from Igor, but it's too soon to say whether it would approach the (U.S.) East Coast," Brennan said.

So far this year, the atmospheric conditions that steer hurricanes in the western Atlantic have cooperated to push them away from the densely populated U.S. coast.

Gaps have opened in the subtropical ridge, allowing the storms to move north, while a series of troughs rolled eastward off the U.S. coast, curving the storms away. But there was no guarantee that pattern would last until the six-month hurricane season ends on Nov. 30, forecasters said.

"It's pretty much a matter of timing," Brennan said. "It's something that evolves day to day."

Tropical Storm Julia also posed no immediate threat to land. It was 245 miles (395 km) west-northwest of the southernmost Cape Verde Islands and was moving in a west-northwest direction away from those islands.

Julia had top sustained winds of 50 miles (85 km) per hour and could strengthen into a hurricane in a couple of days, the center said.

Most forecasters predicted the 2010 Atlantic hurricane season would be extremely active. Besides Igor, three hurricanes - Alex, Danielle and Earl - formed earlier in the season, the last two reaching Category 4 strength. 

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