Hurricane Frances strengthens to a Category 3, but it's too early for predictions
By KEN KAYE
Posted August 27 2004, 4:50 PM EDT
MIAMI -- The long-range forecast calls for Hurricane Frances, which grew into a 115-mph category-three storm Friday afternoon, to build into a major system. Then it could aim directly at South Florida.
But considering it's about 2,000 miles and at least a week away, "it's a little too early to worry," said hurricane specialist Jack Beven of the National Hurricane Center in Miami-Dade County.
The hurricane center said additional strengthening is expected in the next 24 hours and Frances could become a category four hurricane over the weekend.
"It's a long ways away," Beven said. "Storms in this position have been known to go to a great variety of places. Some have gone into the Caribbean; some have gone north toward New England. We've even had some that turn and go back out to sea."
Forecasters expect it to slow down and intensify over the next three days, with winds greater than 120 mph.
Meanwhile, the National Weather Service in Miami said Friday afternoon that a well-defined low-pressure system southeast of Charleston, S.C., has become better organized and became Tropical Depression 7. Storm alerts will be issued for portions of the Georgia and South Carolina coastlines and possibly North Carolina. The depression is moving west.
Frances is the fourth hurricane of the 2004 Atlantic season, which already has seen two major hurricanes in Alex, which brushed North Carolina's Outer Banks Aug. 3, and Charley, which hit Florida's Gulf Coast Aug. 13.
For now, a ridge of high pressure called the Bermuda High is keeping the storm on its westerly path, Beven said. Forecasters said that ridge might weaken and allow the storm to turn more to the north, which would reduce the risk to the Florida coastline.
Meanwhile, Beven said, "the Lesser Antilles are definitely not off hook for this storm."
Under the hurricane center's five-day forecast, Frances is expected to be about 400 miles northwest of Puerto Rico Tuesday morning.
Under a worst-case scenario, at its current forward speed, Frances would approach South Florida a week from Saturday or Sunday.
Beven said it would be another three to four days before it is known whether the U.S. coastline actually is a potential target. In the meantime, residents should monitor the storm's progress, he said.
Frances is the sixth named storm of the 2004 Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to Nov. 30.
Staff Writer Ken Kaye can be reached at email@example.com or 954-385-7911.