Storm Epsilon reaches hurricane strength

Epsilon strengthened into a record 14th hurricane in the Atlantic Ocean on Friday - two days after the 2005 season officially ended. Forecasters said it posed no threat to land.

Epsilon had maximum sustained winds near 75 mph (121 kph) at 4 p.m. EST (2100 GMT), according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami. It was centered about 1,165 miles (1874 kilometers) west of the Azores and moving northeast at near 12 mph (19 kph).

The Atlantic hurricane season began June 1 and officially ended on Wednesday. Epsilon was only the fifth December hurricane recorded in more than 120 years, National Weather Service Hurricane Specialist Stacy Stewart said.

By December, upper-atmosphere winds are normally strong enough to keep storms in check, Stewart said, "but about every 20 years or so, the atmosphere allows it to happen." The latest that a hurricane formed in the Caribbean was Dec. 30, which happened in 1954, he said. No other major storms have appeared on the horizon, he said.

Forecasters say 2006 could be another brutal hurricane year because the Atlantic is in a period of frenzied activity that began in 1995 and could last at least another decade. Government hurricane experts blame the increase on a natural cycle of higher sea temperatures, lower wind shear and other factors, though some scientists cite global warming, AP reports.

A. A.

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