Which way is Jeanne heading

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 25, 2004

If a cat has nine lives, then it appears the same can be said for Hurricane Jeanne.

The tropical system, which first formed Sept. 13, is now threatening the United States mainland. According to forecasters at the National Hurricane Center, Jeanne’s current track has Florida in its sights. However, some forecast models have Jeanne taking an abrupt jaunt to the north. That turn could move the storm up the southeastern Atlantic coast and possibly strike near the South Carolina-North Carolina border as early as Monday. From there it could move inland, hug the coastline or turn out to sea; it’s still too early to predict.

Since Sept. 13, Jeanne has wandered around the Atlantic. On Sept. 16, the storm raked Haiti with hurricane-force winds and heavy rain, resulting in 1,100 deaths. From Haiti, Jeanne turned northward and lost some of its punch with winds in the 40-50 mph range. By Sept. 20, the storm turned east, apparently heading out into the open waters of the Atlantic and not posing a threat to land. However, on Sept. 22, Jeanne veered south and its winds increased to 90 mph. Then it took a turn to the west towards Florida.

Currently, Jeanne is packing winds of 105 mph. Weather experts are hoping it will not undergo any additional strengthening.

Florida residents are keeping a wary eye on Jeanne. The state has already been broadsided by hurricanes Charley, Frances and Ivan. If Jeanne stays on its current course, she would become the fourth hurricane to strike Florida this year. The last time a state was hit by four hurricanes in a single year was Texas in 1886.

The change in Jeanne’s anticipated direction occurred when a ridge of high pressure over the northeastern United States began changing shape. Weather forecasters expected that ridge to elongate in a north-south direction, steering Jeanne northward. But the ridge now seems to be shaping into an east-west fashion, a fact meteorologists refer to as a &uot;brick wall&uot; that will turn the storm west over the next 24-to-36 hours.

Depending on how quickly the pressure ridge moves, Jeanne could still turn north and move up the coast, where its possible the storm could strengthen over warmer waters.

Meanwhile, dangerous surf and rip currents, caused by large swells generated by Jeanne, are possible along the southeastern U.S. coast over the next few days.