Category 4 Hurricane Gonzalo set to weaken as it nears Bermuda

Category 4 Hurricane Gonzalo set to weaken as it nears Bermuda

MIAMI (Reuters) - Gonzalo strengthened into a Category 4 hurricane on Wednesday but was forecast to begin weakening over the next 48 hours as it moves over cooler Atlantic water towards Bermuda, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said. Gonzalo packed sustained winds of 130 miles per hour (215 kph) but had reached its peak as it continued to move away from the northern Caribbean, forecasters said. The hurricane posed no threat to the mainland United States or any oil installation as it moved further north into the Atlantic. It could hit Bermuda early on Friday, and the island was put under a hurricane watch. Gonzalo was about 625 miles (1,005 km) south-southwest of Bermuda on Wednesday afternoon, the center said. Gonzalo is the sixth hurricane of the 2014 Atlantic hurricane season, which runs through the end of November. Forecasters in August predicted lower-than-usual activity for the season, with seven to 12 named storms and no more than two reaching major hurricane status. A major hurricane is considered to be Category 3 or above with winds hitting at least 111 mph (178 kph). Gonzalo is the Atlantic's first Category 4 hurricane since Oct. 2011 when Hurricane Ophelia's winds reached 140 mph (225 kph), according to Jeff Masters, a hurricane expert with private forecaster Weather Underground. Gonzalo would likely begin weakening on Thursday as it encountered drier air and cooler seas, but could still reach Bermuda anywhere between a Category 1 and Category 3 storm, Masters wrote in a blog post. Forecast models showed it passing within 30 to 80 miles (48 to 129 km) of the island on Friday. Gonzalo uprooted trees, downed power lines and damaged scores of boats in the Caribbean islands of Antigua, St Maarten, and Martinique, according to local authorities and media reports. One 87-year-old sailor in St Maarten died after his boat sank in one marina where 37 vessels were damaged, The Daily Herald reported. (Reporting by David Adams; Editing by Marguerita Choy and Sandra Maler)

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