Ophelia regains hurricane force and still poses threat to Florida

Storm, at sea, is expected to look back toward southeastern U.S.

September 10, 2005|By Jason Garcia | Jason Garcia,ORLANDO SENTINEL

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Ophelia regained hurricane strength yesterday as it inched away from Florida's east coast, but state officials said the storm remains a serious threat to the state.

"I will almost guarantee you that somebody is going to die this weekend," said State Emergency Management Director Craig Fugate, referring to surfers likely to be drawn to the heavy waves - and dangerous rip current - Ophelia is churning up.

Surfers aren't the only people who should be wary, officials said. They predict that as Ophelia re-strengthens into a hurricane, it could target Florida.

"Use caution," Fugate said. "This is still a very dangerous situation."

At 5 p.m., maximum sustained winds were at 75 miles per hour, and the storm was 175 miles east-northeast of Daytona Beach, Fla., or about 220 miles south-southeast of Charleston, S.C. It was moving to the northeast at about 7 mph and was expected to follow this path today.

Though Ophelia had been nearly stationary since Wednesday, forecasters said they expect that it will loop back around sometime in the next three to five days. That could leave the storm aimed somewhere between Florida and the Carolinas.

Whether or not Ophelia becomes the seventh hurricane to strike Florida in just over a year depends largely on how far it moves out to sea before looping, state meteorologist Ben Nelson said. The further it moves out before turning, he said, the more likely it is to miss the peninsula.

And now that Ophelia is moving again, Nelson said, it will almost certainly travel over warmer waters that will pump it back to greater strength.

Nelson said it could swell even beyond Category 1.

The Orlando Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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