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Helene Strengthens to Category 3

September 18, 2006

MIAMI (AP) _ Hurricane Helene continued to gain strength as a Category 3 storm in the open Atlantic on Monday, but was not a threat to land, forecasters said.

Helene had top sustained winds of 120 mph, up from 85 mph Sunday, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami. It developed late Sunday into the second Category 3 storm of the 2006 hurricane season.

At 5 a.m. EDT, Helene was centered about 920 miles east-northeast of the northern Leeward Islands and about 1,160 miles east-southeast of Bermuda. It was moving north-northwest at 7 mph with a turn toward the west-northwest expected, forecasters said.

Meanwhile, Hurricane Gordon picked up speed over the open Atlantic, but forecasters said it did not pose a threat to land, either.

It was centered about 1,245 miles west of the Azores and moving northeast near 20 mph, up from 14 mph Sunday. Gordon, the other storm to reach Category 3 status this year, had top sustained winds near 80 mph Monday.

The National Hurricane Center’s latest forecast for the Atlantic season expects between seven and nine hurricanes, a slight reduction from earlier predictions.

Scientists have said that weak El Nino conditions had inhibited hurricane development by bringing higher ocean temperatures that increase crosswinds over the Caribbean. The winds can rip storms apart or stop them from forming.

But the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has warned that the El Nino effect on hurricanes has been small so far. And the season, which lasts until Nov. 30, is still at its traditional peak.

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On the Net:

National Hurricane Center: http://www.nhc.noaa.gov

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