Hurricane Frances strengthened back to a Category 4 storm today while continuing its steady trek toward the Bahamas and Florida. The long-range forecast -- subject to extremely wide margins of error -- edged slightly north, toward northeast Florida, but forecasters cautioned that five-day forecasts always shift and have average margins of error of more than 400 miles. Max Mayfield, director of the National Hurricane Center, said it is too soon for residents of South Florida to let their guard down. He said a few of the computer models used in forecasting still have the core of Frances heading for South Florida, even the Keys, by the end of the week. ''I don't see how this will not have an impact over a large section of the Florida peninsula,'' he said, stressing that Floridians should continue to monitor the progress of the storm -- which at 2 p.m. was 140 miles northeast of San Juan, Puerto Rico. That is still about 1,000 miles from Miami. The maximum sustained winds increased to about 140 mph, with higher gusts. Hurricane forecaster Lixion Avila based the latest projection on data that showed a ridge of high pressure that has been pushing Frances toward Florida may weaken within the next two to three days, allowing the storm to slide more to the northwest. The extended five-day forecast has Frances in Jacksonville on Sunday morning. The previous forecast had it aimed at Vero Beach area farther south. Mayfield again cautioned residents not to focus on the line and dots in the middle of the hurricane cone, but rather be prepared for the storm to hit anywhere in that area. For the next couple days, Frances is expected to move in a west-northwest direction that would take it through the Bahamas, informs Herald. According to Startribune, hurricane Frances brushed Puerto Rico with pounding surf and blustery winds Tuesday as its powerful vortex swirled offshore on a path for the Bahamas and the southeastern United States. Frances strengthened to a dangerous Category 4 hurricane Tuesday, with sustained winds up to 140 mph. Many Puerto Ricans remained in their homes and prepared to ride out the winds and rains on the fringes of the hurricane. ``We're still recovering from the last floods in November. We're a bit nervous,'' said Fernando Morales, a truck driver who set his furniture on blocks to prevent damage. Last time, he said, water filled his home in the eastern town of Fajardo and destroyed all his belongings. Surfers rode the hurricane's crashing swells Tuesday, while some people concerned about coastal flooding sandbagged their doors. Though little damage was expected in the U.S. territory, many offices and schools closed. Courts canceled session, and all 18 casinos in Puerto Rico were closed because government inspectors were sent home. Offices and schools also were closed in the U.S. Virgin Islands, where the hurricane brought rains and gusty winds. The hurricane prompted tropical storm warnings for Puerto Rico, the British Virgin Islands, U.S. Virgin Islands and the north coast of the Dominican Republic. The Bahamas issued a hurricane warning for its southeastern islands and a hurricane watch for its central islands. The storm was expected to plow into the chain of more than 700 islands starting Wednesday or Thursday. A hurricane warning also was posted for the Turks and Caicos Islands. The remnants of Tropical Storm Gaston drenched the central part of the state with what was expected to be up to 6 inches of rain in some locations Monday. At one point, more than 6,500 customers were without power in the region as winds knocked trees onto power lines. The storm also was blamed for a fatal traffic accident on Interstate 95 in Cumberland County. The heaviest rain was reported in a 50- to 75-mile corridor from Laurinburg and Fayetteville, in the south-central part of the state, north to Raleigh and Durham. More trouble may lie ahead. By Labor Day weekend, forecasters expected Hurricane Frances to threaten the southeastern United States, publishes Winston-Salem Journal.
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