Don’t look now, but Katia—that’s pronounced KA-tee-uh—just tipped from intensely simmering over to boiling in the middle of the Atlantic, becoming the second named hurricane of the season.
Katia’s creeping across the ocean at 18 miles per hour, about 1,050 miles east of the Leeward Islands (around 1,700 southeast of Bermuda) with maximum sustained winds currently near 75 mph, but according to the National Hurricane Center (NHS), it’s expected to speed up dramatically over the weekend, surpassing wind speeds of 111 mph. That would bump it from Category 1 to Category 3 status. Hurricane Irene briefly spun that fast as it lumbered past Florida’s eastern side, but weakened to Category 1 speeds again before making landfall in North Carolina last weekend.
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Will the East Coast have time to wring out from Hurricane Irene’s drenching before Katia hits? Let’s get this much straight: We don’t yet know if Katia will hit (here or anywhere else). At this point, the hurricane’s still too far away to know, and as we reported last week, hurricane forecasts get pretty wobbly more than 48 hours out. The “cone of uncertainty” for Irene was in the 100-mile range or variance in that time frame. It could have turned toward Florida or further out to sea.
“It’s got a lot of ocean to go,” said NHS meteorologist and spokesperson Dennis Feltgen. “There’s no way at this point to say if it will make any impacts, let alone when it might make them. There’s a reason we don’t do forecasts more than five days in advance—the information just isn’t good. The error beyond that just isn’t acceptable.”
It’s worth noting that Katia would’ve been called Katrina, but for what happened in New Orleans in 2005. Storm names go through a five-year recycling process, but disappear from the list if they wreak havoc.
While we’re waiting for Katia to show its hand, we can focus on a group of storms over the southeastern portion of the Gulf of Mexico, as they threaten to become a tropical storm in the next two days. Forecasters say there’s a 70% chance the storms will become a tropical cyclone, which could head toward Texas, Mississippi or Louisiana. But all we can say for sure at this point is that if it actually develops into something nameworthy, it’ll be called “Lee.”