Danielle strengthens into Atlantic hurricane

Tropical Storm Danielle located west of the Cape Verde Islands and moving west-northwest, August 23, 2010. REUTERS/NOAA

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Tropical Storm Danielle in the central Atlantic Ocean strengthened into the season’s second hurricane Monday afternoon as it continued to move west-northwest toward Bermuda and not toward key oil and gas producing areas in the Gulf of Mexico.

In its latest advisory on Monday, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said Danielle, the fourth named storm of the 2010 Atlantic hurricane season, was located about 1,320 miles east of the Lesser Antilles with wind speeds climbing to minimal hurricane strength of about 75 miles per hour (120 km per hour) from 65 mph earlier.

Further strengthening was expected and Danielle was forecast to become a major hurricane by Wednesday.

A major hurricane is one that is classified as Category Three, with winds between 111 mph and 130 mph, or higher.

NHC forecasts that Danielle’s wind speeds will climb to about 115 mph in the next 48 to 72 hours.

Danielle was moving west-northwest at 17 mph, but was expected to turn toward the northwest by Tuesday night.

All of the computer weather models still show the system steering in a northwesterly direction, eventually passing east of Bermuda.

Reporting by Joe Silha; Editing by Lisa Shumaker