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Hurricane Katria forms in Atlantic but forecasters unsure where it’s headed

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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla.  >> Katia became the second named hurricane of the season in the Atlantic Ocean today, but forecasters said it was too soon to determine where it might head.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami cautioned the public — still recovering along parts of the East Coast from Irene — not to stress over the storm. It is over warm waters and in a low wind shear environment, two ingredients that could propel it to become a major hurricane, likely by the weekend. But it’s too soon to tell if it will ever come near land.

“It’s got a lot of ocean to go. There’s no way at this point to say if it will make any impacts, let alone when it might make them,” said Dennis Feltgen, a meteorologist and spokesman at the National Hurricane Center. “There’s a reason we don’t do forecasts more than five days in advance — the information just isn’t good. The error beyond that just isn’t acceptable.”

As of 11 p.m. (Eastern Daylight Time), Katia was still centered about 1,800 miles east of the Leeward Islands and was moving west-northwest near 20 mph.

Maximum sustained winds were 75 mph.

Also becoming an area of concern is a thunderstorm cluster over the southeastern Gulf of Mexico. It has a high chance of becoming a tropical storm in the next two days, the hurricane center said.

National Weather Service meteorologist Fred Zeigler said the system could bring rain to coastal Mississippi and Louisiana but it’s too early to tell whether it will mean anything worse.

Most models used to track such systems are struggling to predict whether it will move toward Brownsville, Texas, or the Florida Panhandle, he said.

As for Katia, some models show it veering away from the East Coast. But Feltgen said it’s simply too soon for coastal residents to tell.

“Folks along the East Coast shouldn’t be getting a lot of heartburn over this — not yet,” he said.

The storm’s name replaces Katrina in the rotating storm roster because of the catastrophic damage from the 2005 storm that devastated New Orleans and the coast. The World Meteorological Organization maintains six rotating lists of storm names, but it strikes names associated with storms that were catastrophically deadly or costly.

Meantime, a tropical depression in the Pacific has fallen apart over southwestern Mexico with winds dropping and the hazard dissipating.

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