Bonnie became the Atlantic season's first hurricane Saturday, heading toward sparsely populated Bahamian islands along a route that could threaten the southeastern United States.
Bonnie's center was located about 195 miles east-southeast of San Salvador in the Bahamas late Saturday, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center.Maximum sustained winds were estimated to have increased to near 105 mph and the hurricane was expected to grow stronger during the next 24 hours, meteorologists said.
"People along the southeastern (United States) should pay attention to its progress," said Jerry Jarrell, director of the hurricane center.
He said Bonnie could eventually strengthen to a Category 3 storm with winds more than 111 mph capable of causing extensive damage.
Though the hurricane nearly stalled for part of the day Saturday, Bonnie was expected to resume its west-northwest tack and move at 10-12 mph on Sunday, the hurricane center said.
Bahamian forecaster Basil Dean said the islands closest to the hurricane would experience waves 6 feet to 9 feet above normal, and Bonnie's storm surge and rain could cause local flooding.
Bahamian radio warned the islands' fishing fleet and yachters to make for safe port.
The islands' meteorological department said Bonnie would have the greatest effect on San Salvador, which could see five to 10 inches of rain, while more populated areas, including the capital, Nassau, were unlikely to suffer as much.
Three inches of rain were reported in the Turks and Caicos Islands at the southeast end of the Bahamas chain.
Saturday evening, the hurricane warning was discontinued in the Turks and Caicos and was downgraded to a tropical storm warning in the southeastern Bahamas.
North Florida is the most likely target to be hit if the storm reaches the mainland. Still, the storm could veer out to sea and miss the U.S. coast entirely, Jarrell said.
Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Charley, which had threatened parts of Texas, weakened to a depression Saturday, discontinuing all warnings. But the hurricane center warned small vessels to remain in port along the northwestern Gulf of Mexico until strong winds and waves subside.
The threat of heavy rains and a storm forced the evacuation of thousands of people from oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico.