Beryl threatens northeast

The U.S. National Hurricane Center issued a storm warning for the vacation playgrounds of southeastern Massachusetts on Thursday, as Tropical Storm Beryl headed north after sparing North Carolina.

The storm, the second cyclone of the 2006 Atlantic hurricane season, strengthened as it moved over warmer waters in the Atlantic Ocean and its maximum sustained winds were near 60 miles per hour (97 km per hour), the center said in a bulletin.

Beryl’s center was about 210 miles south of New York and about 295 miles southwest of Nantucket, Massachusetts, at 5 a.m. (0900 GMT), and was moving northward at around 9 mph (15 kmh).

The new warning, meaning residents could see storm conditions within 24 hours, was in effect from Plymouth southward and westward to Woods Hole, including the summer vacation destinations of Cape Cod, Nantucket Island and Martha’s Vineyard.

The hurricane center said additional watches or warnings may be issued for parts of Long Island and the New England coast later in the day.

The storm was expected to turn toward the northeast and gain pace over the next 24 hours, bringing its center near the southeastern coast of Massachusetts Thursday night or Friday morning, the center said.

The tropical storm posed no threat to U.S. oil and gas facilities in the Gulf of Mexico.

A storm watch for the North Carolina coast was lifted on Wednesday as the storm moved past well out to sea.

Forecasters expect a busy June 1-November 30 hurricane season this year, with up to 17 tropical storms. Last year’s season saw a record 28 tropical storms, 15 of which strengthened into hurricanes with winds of at least 74 mph (119 kph).

The first tropical storm of the 2006 season, Alberto, came harmlessly ashore in the Florida Panhandle on June 13. Tropical storms rarely pose a threat to developed countries with sound building standards although they can cause torrential rain.

But Florida officials did not let their guard down for Alberto and even ordered evacuations — with memories still fresh of the destruction during caused by monster storms such as Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma last year.

Katrina, the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history, devastated New Orleans and killed more than 1,300 people.