Hurricane Isabel plowed across the Atlantic Ocean toward the Caribbean islands on Tuesday on a path that could take it north of Puerto Rico by the weekend.
The storm, carrying 135-mph (215-kph) winds,, was still nearly 1,000 miles (1,610 km) from the Leeward Islands, another three days journey from any land at its current speed.
The five-day forecast issued by the U.S. National Hurricane Center had Isabel taking a generally westerly track that would keep it far enough north to largely spare Puerto Rico, the U.S. and British Virgin Islands and the tiny islands of the northern Leewards.
“It would not be serious in terms of high winds or rain if it stays on its current track, which keeps it 150 to 200 miles (240 to 320 km) north of the northern islands,” hurricane specialist Stacy Stewart said. “They could see some dangerous swells.”
At 11 a.m. EDT (1500 GMT) on Tuesday, the center of Isabel was 980 miles (1,580 km) east of the northern Leeward Islands at latitude 19.6 north and longitude 46.9 west, the hurricane center said.
The system was moving toward the west-northwest at about 14 mph (23 kph) and was expected to stay on that track for 12 to 24 hours, with a gradual turn to the west, forecasters said.
Isabel was already a Category 4 storm,, the second most powerful on the 5-point Saffir-Simpson scale of hurricane intensity, and could strengthen further, forecasters said.
Such a storm is capable of ripping off roofs and blowing in doors and windows of small structures, and can completely destroy mobile homes. It can produce tidal surges 13 to 18 feet (4-5.5 metres) above normal.