Forecasters urge Southeast to prepare for hurricane; Floyd could strike land with winds of 120 mph


MIAMI -- Hurricane Floyd is expected to billow into a major storm this weekend as it cruises the Atlantic -- and turns sharply toward the Southeast, forecasters said yesterday.

No land mass is likely to be endangered before early next week, but forecasters believe that Floyd is destined to strike the East Coast, possibly with winds in excess of 120 mph.

They are advising coastal residents to prepare.

"Floridians should make good use of this weekend to review their hurricane plan in the event that Hurricane Floyd becomes a serious threat," said Max Mayfield, deputy director of the National Hurricane Center in west Miami-Dade.

"If it's still moving west on Sunday, then we certainly can't rule out a strike at South Florida," said Jerry Jarrell, the hurricane center's director.

More likely targets range from North Florida to the Carolinas, he said, but the atmospheric steering currents are uncertain.

Another problem: Floyd is expected to develop winds of 120 mph by Monday, before it is energized by the warm Gulf Stream.

Though Floyd remained about 1,300 miles away yesterday, its growth potential and projected path caught the attention of civil defense authorities in Florida. They advised residents and county authorities to closely monitor Floyd's progress this weekend.

By coincidence, yesterday -- Sept. 10 -- was the statistical peak of the hurricane season. More hurricanes have existed on that date than on any other, according to records collected during the past 100 years.

And forecasters had their hands full: Two other weather systems in the Atlantic showed signs of developing into tropical disturbances or storms.

Promoted to hurricane status yesterday morning, Floyd passed north of the Leeward Islands but drenched portions of that chain with its outer bands of rain.

Forecasters had hoped that a strong current of air over the eastern United States would push Floyd harmlessly out to sea, but that "trough" of air was moving away, ahead of Floyd.

They fear that a strong atmospheric ridge that is developing north of the hurricane will block Floyd from moving in that direction, leaving it no alternative but to push west toward the Bahamas and the Southeast coast.

As Floyd approaches the mainland, a second trough could bend it northward again, but forecasters are not sure when that will happen.

The strength and timing of that second trough will determine if Floyd strikes Florida or a point farther north.

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