As hurricane Katia picks up steam, potential tropical storm forming in Gulf

Hurricane forecasters now have two storms to watch: Hurricane Katia could be on its way to becoming a category 3 storm, while a storm system in the Gulf could organize into tropical storm Lee within 48 hours.

This NOAA satellite image shows tropical storm Katia in the Atlantic Ocean Tuesday. Katia is now a hurricane.

Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center are moving into juggle mode as they track hurricane Katia in the Atlantic and a mass of storm clouds in the Gulf of Mexico that stands a 70 percent chance of becoming a tropical cyclone within the next 48 hours.

This new system in the Gulf should encounter conditions Thursday that would strengthen it, forecasters say.

If that happens, the system could become a tropical depression within the next 24 hours, with the name Lee awaiting it if continues to strengthen to topical-storm status within the next two days.

"Interests along the entire northern Gulf of Mexico coast should monitor the progress of his disturbance," forecasters urge.

Meanwhile, Katia – still over the central Atlantic – strengthened overnight from a tropical storm to a category 1 hurricane.

At 5 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time Katia's center was located in the Atlantic about 1,000 miles west of Martinique in the Leeward Islands and roughly 1,700 miles southeast of Bermuda.

It's still too soon to know what threat, if any, the storm poses to the East Coast so soon after Irene.

Katia continues to follow a generally northwest track, one that could put the hurricane about 600 miles south of Bermuda and about 500 miles east of the Turks and Caicos Islands in the southern Bahamas by early Tuesday morning. That position could vary by up to 225 miles on either side of the forecast track, given the uncertainties inherent in projecting the track that far in advance.

Forecasters say they currently expect Katia to continue to strengthen, becoming a category 3 storm perhaps within the next 48 hours.

Overnight, it appeared that the storm encountered a patch of dry air, a feature forecasters had been watching Wednesday for its impact on Katia. That encounter has disrupted the storm's eye a bit, leading to some uncertainty over whether the changes are temporary or whether they indicate that Katia is as strong as it will get.

For now, forecasters have opted to interpret the changes as temporary.

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.