Tropical storm approaches Bermuda, likely missing direct hit

HAMILTON, Bermuda Sat Sep 8, 2012 3:25pm EDT

1 of 3. Hurricane Leslie (C) and Hurricane Michael (R) are seen in this NOAA handout satellite image taken September 6, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/NOAA/Handout

HAMILTON, Bermuda (Reuters) - Tropical Storm Leslie swirled over the Atlantic on a track likely to pass east of Bermuda on Sunday as the outer wind and rain bands approached the island, the U.S. National Hurricane Center reported on Saturday.

A wealthy British overseas territory and global reinsurance center, Bermuda is not expected to take a direct hit from Leslie, which could re-strengthen by late Sunday to a Category 1 hurricane, the lowest on the Saffir-Simpson scale of wind intensity.

Over the weekend, tropical storm-force winds are expected to pound the island of 65,000 residents located 640 miles off the U.S. East Coast.

The large span of storm winds combined with Leslie's slow movement "will produce large waves and life-threatening rip currents on Bermuda and along much of the U.S. East Coast through the weekend," the Miami-based hurricane center said.

Residents in the rocky archipelago of 20 square miles (52 square km) stocked up on food and water, while most government offices and all of the island's schools and beaches were closed on Friday.

Some of the island's hotels advised guests to consider leaving early before the worst of the storm is felt.

The hurricane center said Leslie was about 265 miles south-southeast of Bermuda on Saturday afternoon, moving in a northerly direction at 8 miles per hour, with maximum sustained winds of 65 miles per hour.

Before being downgraded to tropical storm status, Leslie had spent two days as a Category 1 hurricane, the season's sixth Atlantic hurricane.

Farther out in the ocean, Hurricane Michael, the first Category 3 storm of the Atlantic hurricane season before being downgraded to Category 2, continued to move harmlessly north on Saturday, about 930 miles west-southwest of the Azores, and was not a threat to land.

It had maximum sustained winds of 105 mph. It is expected to weaken gradually during the next 48 hours, the hurricane center said.

(Editing by David Adams and Xavier Briand)