August 18, 2009 / 2:58 AM / 10 years ago

Hurricane Bill builds in Atlantic, path uncertain

MIAMI (Reuters) - Hurricane Bill, the first hurricane of the 2009 Atlantic season, headed west-northwest over the open ocean on Tuesday, but it was uncertain whether it could threaten the northeast U.S. coast by Sunday.

Hurricane Bill moving through the Atlantic Ocean in a satellite image taken August 18, 2009. REUTERS/NOAA/Handout

The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Bill, which late on Monday turned into a Category 2 hurricane packing winds of nearly 100 miles per hour (160 km per hour), was expected to strengthen further on a curving path that would keep it far from land in the next few days.

It posed no threat to the U.S. Gulf oil-producing area.

The NHC’s broad five-day track forecast saw it passing west of Bermuda, the island reinsurance capital, between Saturday and Sunday, but it was not completely clear to what extent Bill might eventually threaten the northeast U.S. coast.

Bill was expected to become a Category 3 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson 1 to 5 scale of intensity in the coming days, and the NHC forecast it would make a gradual turn to the northwest on Wednesday.

Some forecasting models appeared to show Bill eventually turning away from the northeast U.S. coast.

At 5 a.m. EDT (0900 GMT) Bill was located 810 miles east of the Leeward Islands.

Meanwhile, energy traders were keeping an eye on the remnants of Tropical Storm Ana, which is currently producing thunderstorms over Haiti, Cuba and the Bahamas.

The NHC forecast that the storm front had a low chance — less than 30 percent — of becoming a tropical cyclone again over the next 48 hours.

One forecaster, AccuWeather.com, said it was unlikely but possible the system could regenerate over the eastern Gulf later in the week. Some forecasters noted that Ana had already regenerated once.

Energy markets quaver at Gulf storms because the region produces a quarter of U.S. oil and 15 percent of its natural gas.

Reporting by Pascal Fletcher and Scott DiSavino; Editing by Jim Loney and Paul Simao

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