Hurricane Bill weakened slightly to a Category 3 early Thursday -- packing 125 winds -- but forecasters warned the powerful storm could grow stronger by day's end.
The season's first major hurricane posed the most serious and immediate threat to Bermuda. The storm could morph into a Category 4 storm by the end of Thursday or early Friday.
By week's end, a weaker but still formidable Bill also could move close to New England, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.
Though most of the large and dangerous core of the storm was likely to track hundreds of miles from Florida and the Southeast coast, the National Hurricane Center said Bill's impacts will be felt at beaches over the next few days in the form of dangerous surf and rip tides.
At 5 a.m., Bill was churning northwest at 18 mph, about 790 miles south-southeast of Bermuda.
It was expected to stay well away from the Leeward Islands as it begins a more northerly track by late Friday.
Computer models still predicted Bill would veer away from the U.S. coast into a break in a high-pressure system -- a track that could put it close to Bermuda. There is a question of when that will happen, with the key being the timing of the jet stream, an upper-level trough digging east expected to steer Bill more sharply north.
With warm water in its path, forecasters said Bill could gain more strength in the next few days, but wind shear from the approaching troughs could offset that, knocking the storm down a notch.
Bill's large wind field continued to expand, with hurricane-force winds extending 85 miles and tropical storm-force winds reaching out 230 miles, the hurricane center said.
By early Saturday, forecasters expect the storm to be somewhere between Bermuda and the North Carolina coast. By Sunday, depending on the timing of its turn, it could still be a hurricane as it brushes or bears down on New England -- but likely weaker as it hits cooler northern waters.
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