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Ophelia regains hurricane status

Forecasters: Storm could hit South Carolina early next week


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National Weather Service
Tropical Storm Ophelia

(CNN) -- Ophelia regained hurricane strength Friday evening, and the latest long-range forecast from the National Hurricane Center shows the storm making landfall either late Monday or early Tuesday along the South Carolina coast.

Late Friday night, Ophelia's sustained winds were only 75 mph, making it barely strong enough to be called a hurricane, and it was heading northeast, parallel to the coast. But forecasters at the National Hurricane Center said a ridge of high pressure to the north of the storm is expected to turn it to the west beginning Saturday afternoon.

The current five-day forecast of Ophelia's path puts landfall in South Carolina, and it is now projected to strengthen to Category 2 intensity before arrival, with winds of at least 96 mph and a storm surge of 6 to 8 feet, capable of damaging windows and exteriors of buildings.

South Carolina emergency officials urged people to make sure their hurricane plans were up-to-date, gather supplies and prepare their homes for a possible strike. In Florida, residents along the northeast coast were being advised to stay out of the ocean this weekend because of the danger of rip currents and high surf.

At 11 p.m. ET, Ophelia was 255 miles east-northeast of Daytona Beach, Florida and 240 miles southeast of Charleston, South Carolina, heading northeast at about 9 mph.

Tropical storm warnings and watches for northeast Florida were discontinued earlier Friday, and forecasters have not yet posted any warnings for stretches of coastline farther north. Tropical storm force winds from the storm extended only 75 miles from the center, not far enough to reach land.

If Ophelia hits the United States at hurricane strength, it would be the third hurricane to strike U.S. soil this year, with three months yet to go in the busy 2005 Atlantic hurricane season. Dennis landed near the Florida-Alabama border in early July; Katrina brought devastation and misery to Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida with two landfalls in August.

Two tropical storms -- Arlene and Cindy -- also have made landfall in the United States this year, both along same stretch of the northern Gulf Coast menaced by Dennis and Katrina.

As Ophelia looms, two other tropical storms also are churning in the Atlantic -- Maria and Nate -- though both are far out to sea and pose no immediate threat to land.

A little more than a week into September -- historically the most active month for tropical activity -- the 2005 hurricane season has already seen 15 named storms, seven of which reached hurricane strength with winds of at least 74 mph. Four of those became major hurricanes, with sustained winds of at least 111 mph.

According to the National Hurricane Center, the historical averages for a hurricane season are 10 named storms, six hurricanes and two major hurricanes. Those numbers already have been exceeded this season, which doesn't end until Nov. 30.

The largest number of named storms ever recorded was 21, in 1933, a record that will be broken if seven more storms develop in the next 12 weeks. If that happens the hurricane center will run out of names for the first time since it adopted the system of assigning names to storms in 1953.

The letters Q, U, X, Y and Z aren't used, because few names begin with those letters, so the 21st and last name on this year's hurricane list is Wilma. After that, Greek letters will be used to designate storms, beginning with alpha.

The largest number of hurricanes ever recorded in the Atlantic was 12, back in 1969, according to the hurricane center, and the largest number of major hurricanes was eight, in 1950.

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