Hurricane Igor leaps to Cat 4 status over Atlantic

MIAMI (Reuters) – Hurricane Igor strengthened quickly over the Atlantic Ocean on Sunday, becoming a large and dangerous Category 4 storm as it churned menacingly westward.

Igor, now capable of causing catastrophic damage, posed no immediate threat to land or energy interests.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Igor packed top sustained winds of 135 miles per hour, making it a “major” Category 4 on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale of hurricane intensity.

It was located about 1,120 miles east of the Caribbean’s northern Leeward islands at 2:30 p.m. EDT (1830 GMT).

Some additional strengthening of Igor was expected over the next three days but it was expected to fall just short of becoming a Category 5 storm, the Miami-based hurricane center said.

Computer models project Igor, which became the fourth hurricane of the 2010 Atlantic season late on Saturday, would stay in the Atlantic for the coming days and not enter the Gulf of Mexico, where U.S. oil and gas operations are clustered.

Veteran forecaster Jeff Masters said on Sunday on his Weather Underground blog (www.wunderground.com) that Igor may threaten Bermuda but had only a small chance of making landfall on the U.S. East Coast or in Canada.

Masters and other forecasters said it was still too early to make any definitive predictions about Igor’s long-term fate, however.

Behind Igor, the hurricane center said a tropical depression off the southernmost Cape Verde islands was likely to become Tropical Storm Julia later on Sunday.

The hurricane center was also monitoring a low pressure system over the east-central Caribbean that it said could develop into a tropical cyclone over the next couple of days.

The 2010 Atlantic hurricane season was predicted to be extremely active by most forecasters. Besides Igor, three hurricanes — Alex, Danielle and Earl — formed earlier in the season, the last two reaching Category 4 strength.

Several forecasters have said they expect the season to produce in all some five major hurricanes of Category 3 strength or stronger.

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