Hurricane Danny Strengthens to Category 3

(CNN) [Breaking news update, published at 2:04 p.m. ET]

Hurricane Danny strengthened to a Category 3 storm Friday in the Atlantic Ocean, making it the first major hurricane of the 2015 Atlantic hurricane season, the National Hurricane Center said.

The maximum sustained winds are estimated to be 115 mph, with higher gusts, the center said.

[Original story, published at 9:44 a.m. ET]

Danny becomes hurricane with 80-mph winds

It took awhile, but the first Atlantic hurricane of the year has arrived.

A relatively compact Danny strengthened to a Category 1 hurricane Thursday, still more than 1,000 miles east of the eastern Caribbean islands.

Plenty could change in the next few days, but it looked as if Danny could reach the Leeward Islands such as Guadeloupe and St. Kitts and Nevis as a Category 1 hurricane by Monday, CNN meteorologist Dave Hennen said.

Danny was “tiny” for a hurricane, the National Hurricane Center said, with hurricane-force winds extending only 10 miles from center. Its maximum sustained winds were 75 mph, just above the hurricane threshold, on Thursday morning.

They strengthened to 80 mph by Thursday afternoon and are expected to strengthen more over the next 24 hours before weakening.

The hurricane center cautioned that Danny’s small diameter makes forecasting its strength especially difficult.

“Danny’s compact size makes it subject to significant fluctuations in strength, both up and down, and such fluctuations are notoriously difficult to forecast,” the center said in a forecast discussion online.

Danny two days earlier became the first named storm of the Atlantic season — unusually, if not unexpectedly, late.

Forecasters had already said that this year’s season would produce a below-normal number of Atlantic Ocean hurricanes, in part because of this year’s strong El Niño, which is causing strong wind shears in the Atlantic, hindering cyclone development.

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