Hurricane Epsilon defies cool Atlantic waters

MIAMI - Hurricane Epsilon, the 14th hurricane of a record-breaking Atlantic storm season, defied expectations that it would weaken over cool Atlantic waters yesterday and continued to churn slowly eastward.

Epsilon's maximum sustained winds at 10am EST (4am NZT) remained at 120km/h, just over the threshold for a tropical storm to be categorised as a hurricane, but the cyclone posed no threat to land, the US National Hurricane Centre said.

The storm was about 1600km west of Portugal's Azores islands and moving to the east at 19km/h.

"Epsilon is a tenacious tropical cyclone which has maintained hurricane intensity over cool waters and apparent unfavorable atmospheric conditions," the Miami-based hurricane centre said.

But it reiterated its expectation that the storm would steadily weaken over the next few days.

Hurricanes are normally spawned over warmer Atlantic waters further south. They need warm water to gain power and higher than normal sea surface temperatures this year have helped the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season, which formally ended on Wednesday, enter the record books in a multitude of ways.

Epsilon, the sixth hurricane to occur in December since records began in 1851, was named like its four predecessors for a letter in the Greek alphabet after the official list of storm names for 2005 was exhausted.

This season has witnessed the most tropical storms on record -- 26. It has seen the most hurricanes, with 14. The highest number of hurricanes previously on record was 12, in 1969, and the highest number of named storms was 21, in 1933.

The long-term average is 10 storms per season, six of which become hurricanes.

This year also set a record of three Category 5 storms -- the top rank on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale of hurricane intensity -- including Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans and killed more than 1200 in Louisiana and Mississippi.

Hurricane Wilma in October briefly became the most powerful hurricane ever observed in the Atlantic.

While most climatologists agree that the large number of storms can be blamed on a natural and periodic switch in climatic conditions, some experts say they also see signs that global warming could be increasing the average intensity of the storms.

- REUTERS

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