Irene cleanup continues as forecasters eye Katia, new storm
Even as the Northeast continued its efforts to clean up after Hurricane Irene, weather forecasters on Thursday cast their eyes on the next round of storms: the newly minted Hurricane Katia in the Atlantic, and a formative tropical cyclone that threatens to bring heavy rains to the states along the Gulf of Mexico.
The National Hurricane Center in Miami elevated Katia to a Category 1 hurricane and noted in an advisory posted on its website, that "some strengthening is forecast during the next 48 hours ... and Katia could become a major hurricane this weekend."
Katia was about 1,050 miles east of the northern Leeward Islands, moving west and north at less than 20 mph, according to the center. It was too soon to predict whether the storm will hit land in the United States.
Perhaps of more immediate concern to the U.S. was a low-pressure area in the Gulf of Mexico that the center gave a 70% chance of becoming a tropical cyclone over the next few days.
"This system has a high chance of becoming a tropical cyclone during the next 48 hours as it moves slowly northwestward," the center stated in its outlook.
The possible effects of the storm remain unclear, but AccuWeather.com warned that it has the potential to cause sizable flooding and damage throughout the gulf region. Its meteorologists were concerned that the storm could bring 10 to 20 inches of rain from the Florida panhandle to the Texas coast.
"The consensus among nearly 100 meteorologists at AccuWeather is that this will be an extensive, slow-moving system, capable of affecting the same areas for days with downpours, stormy seas and rough surf conditions. Rough seas alone have potential to shut down rigs in the Gulf for an extended period," it said.
The gulf region is still recovering from Hurricane Katrina, the 2005 disaster that left more than 1,800 dead and caused more than $80 billion in damage.
Meanwhile, state officials in Vermont and New Jersey reported that rescue and relief efforts had resumed as rain-soaked rivers and streams continued to recede after Hurricane Irene. Helicopters, including some from the Illinois National Guard, continued to transport supplies to Vermont communities, officials said.
Even though river levels were declining, many waterways remained at flood stage, according to New Jersey officials. President Obama is scheduled to visit Paterson, N.J., on Sunday and to meet with Gov. Chris Christie to discuss cleanup efforts.
Irene hit North Carolina on Saturday as a Category 1 hurricane and worked its way up the East Coast as a tropical storm. About 45 deaths have been blamed on the storm, which has caused billions of dollars in damage.
The Department of Energy reported Thursday morning that 1.1 million people in 12 states remained without electricity. The most severely affected at this point was Connecticut, where 16% of the state remained without power, the department said.
-- Michael Muskal
Photo: A house that was destroyed during Tropical Storm Irene remains in the river Wednesday in Rochester, Vt. Homeowner Jon Graham, right, gets help from friends Brad Leathers, in window, and Ed Wissner removing items from the home. Credit: Vyto Starinskas / Rutland Herald / Associated Press