Diagram courtesy NHC/NOAA

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Hurricane Igor's path, as forecast Monday in a U.S. National Hurricane Center computer model.

Diagram courtesy NHC/NOAA

Hurricane Igor Now Strongest Storm—But U.S. Spared Again?

Low-pressure system to deflect fourth strong storm from U.S. East Coast.

Raging about a thousand miles (1,600 kilomters) east of the Virgin Islands, Hurricane Igor—with winds exceeding 150 miles (240 kilometers) an hour—became on Monday the most powerful storm of the 2010 Atlantic hurricane season so far.

But again the United States looks likely to dodge this bullet, just as it did with three recent storms—tropical storm Danielle, Hurricane Earl, and tropical storm Fiona—thanks to meteorological "force fields" seemingly protecting the East Coast.

Another in a series of low pressure systems is moving from west to east across the U.S. and is expected to drive Hurricane Igor away from the U.S. mainland, according to Jeff Masters, meteorological director for the Weather Underground website. In low-pressure systems, air tends to rise, cooling and forming clouds in the process.

"That's been the steering pattern this year," Masters said. "It's been pretty constant since June—a steady progression of low-pressure systems moving off the East Coast."

Low-pressure systems, he added, "are just a normal part of the weather. ...

"We can have very active seasons with major hurricanes, but if the steering currents are our friends, it will not be a bad season with a lot of impacts," he said.

When the low-pressure systems aren't moving off the U.S., however, the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts can be battered by hurricanes. That was the case in 2004 and 2005, Masters said, when a series of very powerful hurricanes, including Hurricane Katrina, blasted the Gulf Coast.

Hurricane Igor Offers Guilt-Free Ogling

Hurricane Igor's 150-mile-an-hour winds make it a Category 4 storm and the third major hurricane of the Atlantic season.

By late Monday, though, Igor could be flirting with Category 5 status—the highest possible—according to the National Hurricane Center. Category 5 hurricanes have wind speeds of at least 156 miles (251 kilometers) an hour.

Hurricanes draw their power from warm ocean water, which will be freely available to Igor as it moves over unusually warm Atlantic waters. (Related: "'Ominous' Pre-Katrina Conditions Now in Atlantic" [June].)

As a result, Hurricane Igor will probably retain its intensity for several days, giving meteorologists a chance to study a powerful hurricane without having to worry about forecasting a U.S. landfall.

"We don't have to feel guilty about admiring its spectacular beauty when it's not likely to cause large-scale death and destruction," Masters said.

"It may have an impact on Bermuda (map), but Bermuda is well prepared and it's a small target in a big ocean."