Katia weakens to tropical storm; likely to spare Caribbean

Hurricane Katia

weakened to tropical storm strength Thursday afternoon and still appears on a path that likely will spare the islands of the eastern


, including

Puerto Rico

and Hispaniola.

At 5 p.m. on Thursday, Tropical Storm Katia was about 930 miles east of the Leeward Islands, moving west at 18 mph with sustained winds of 70 mph.


National Hurricane Center

also is monitoring a

in the central Gulf of Mexico, and is still giving it an 80 percent chance of developing into a tropical depression within the next day or so. Models aim that system toward the northern Gulf Coast.

Although Katia’s

has been shifted slightly to the west, it still would be about 450 miles northeast of

Puerto Rico

early on Tuesday under the latest forecast.

If that prediction holds, the eastern Caribbean wouldn't feel Katia’s

but still could receive some wind and rain from its fringes.

From there,

the system might curve north before reaching the Bahamas. If so, that would reduce - but not eliminate - the threat to the United States.

Because long-range forecasts can hold large errors,


also needs to keep an eye on Katia. Under the latest forecast, the system would be about 800 miles east of


on Wednesday and possibly closer yet to Central Florida.

For now, Katia is relatively

, with tropical storm force winds extending only 25 miles from its center. However, it likely will grow in size as it intensifies.

Because of wind shear and dry air invading its center, it probably won't strengthen quickly, forecasters said. However, conditions are expected to become more conducive for intensification within the next day or two.

In emerging on Wednesday night, Katia is only slightly behind schedule; on average, the second hurricane of the season forms on Aug. 28, the third on Sept. 9.

The hurricane center also is monitoring a

about 360 miles north of Bermuda, giving it a 50 percent chance of developing over the next two days.

The next two named storms will be Lee and Maria.