America eyes east Atlantic

MIAMI – Tropical Storm Debby strengthened slightly Wednesday off the coast of the Cape Verde islands in the eastern Atlantic, but it posed no immediate threat to land, forecasters said.

At 11 a.m. EDT, the storm’s top sustained wind speed was near 50 mph, still well below the 74 mph threshold for a hurricane.

The fourth named storm of the 2006 Atlantic hurricane season was centered about 500 miles west of the southernmost Cape Verde islands, which are about 350 miles off the African coast. It was moving toward the west-northwest near 17 mph, the National Hurricane Center said.

“We are forecasting it to become a hurricane in about four days, but we do see some factors that could prevent that,” senior hurricane specialist Richard Pasch said.

There were hopeful signs that the storm would stay out at sea and not reach the U.S., senior hurricane specialist James Franklin said.

In the Pacific Ocean, Hurricane Ioke passed near Johnston Island, part of the isolated Johnston Atoll, a wildlife refuge and U.S. military facility, according to the weather service’s Central Pacific Hurricane Center in Honolulu.

At 11 a.m. EDT, Ioke was centered about 100 miles northwest of the island, or about 870 miles west-southwest of Honolulu. It was moving toward the northwest at about 7 mph with a maximum sustained wind speed near 105 mph. Little change in strength was forecast for the next day.

Johnston Atoll has been used by the U.S. military for weapons tests and as the site of a chemical weapons disposal plant. During the 1950s, nuclear warheads were detonated high above the islands. The chemical disposal unit was shut down and its military personnel removed in June 2004, according to the Web site of the Air Force’s 15th Airlift Wing.

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