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News Briefs

Direction of Storm Remains Hard to Predict

THE WASHINGTON POST -- FERNANDINA BEACH

When Andy Barton lived in Washington state, his fear was earthquakes, opening up the ground under his feet and toppling buildings onto his head. Now, he is experiencing his first hurricane season on the north Florida coast and learning firsthand how the uncertainties of a big, violent storm close by in the Atlantic can play havoc with his nerves.

“I’m hoping to have an easy initiation,” said Barton, deputy city manager since May of this scenic beach community on Amelia Island 30 miles north of Jacksonville and near the Georgia line. “That is, no hurricane. It’s very intimidating, knowing it’s out there. You have a lot of lead time, which is great, but you have a lot of time to worry, too.”

It was inevitable that this hurricane, the second to threaten the United States in a week, would be dubbed “Dennis the Menace.” So far, it is amply living up to its name, keeping forecasters guessing about where and when it might make landfall -- and keeping residents from central Florida to the Carolinas on edge as they watched it slowly strengthen and advance Saturday.

Since Friday, Dennis has intensified from a minimal Category 1 hurricane, with 80-mph winds, to a Category 2, with 105-mph winds. But what is causing forecasters and residents the greatest consternation is the possibility that it could grow into a deadly Category 3 sometime Sunday, packing winds of 111 to 130 mph, and capable of causing great destruction along the coast.

“Right now, we are pretty certain it will become a Category 3,” said Jeremy Pennington, a meteorologist with the National Hurricane Center in Miami. “As it moves over the Gulf Stream, there is warmer water there than where it has been the past couple of days, and warm water is its energy source.”

All forecasters could say for now about its destination is that it could strike somewhere in the Carolinas on Tuesday. But even that was unclear, depending on how fast it moves. Although Dennis might simply skirt the coast, then turn mercifully out to sea, that was looking more and more unlikely, Pennington said.

As a Category 1 storm, the hurricane battered the northern Bahamas early Saturday. Although the information was sketchy, with many people still remaining in shelters, there have been no reports of deaths, Pennington said.

By this evening, Dennis was about 170 miles east-southeast of Cape Canaveral, churning at a slow 7-mph pace. On forecast maps, it seemed perilously near Florida, but Pennington said it will likely only cruise parallel to the Florida coast for the next couple of days, drawing as close as 100 miles, and possibly sending tropical storm-force winds of 39 to 74 mph to some north Florida beaches.

Nevertheless, a hurricane watch -- meaning a hurricane is possible but not certain within the next 36 hours -- has remained posted since Friday from Fernandina Beach south to Sebastian Inlet near Fort Pierce.

The watch seemed to have little effect Saturday on vacationers drawn to this 13-mile barrier island, with its quaint Victorian-style homes and old-fashioned downtown full of cafes and antique shops. Charles Logan of Athens, Ga., was not worried. Big puffy clouds sliced with gray seemed to be piling up on the horizon, as the white sailboats in the marina bobbed in the sometimes rising winds.

“I pay attention. I go with the experts,” said Logan, who is retired, as he sat on a bench reading a newspaper outside the Mariner Restaurant, housed in an 1882 red-brick building.

Bond Prices Creep Upward

THE WASHINGTON POST -- WASHINGTON

When the Federal Reserve raised its target for the federal funds rate by 25 basis points, to 5.25 percent, on Tuesday, the market’s attention turned immediately to the question of whether the central bank would do so again at its next policy making meeting, on Oct. 5.

Analysts were divided on the issue, but the wording of the Fed announcement gave the strong impression officials won’t move again in October unless some development forces their hand.

Meanwhile, more of that sentiment crept into the bond market and helped prices move upward. A report of a much smaller increase in personal income and consumer spending for July than in previous months also provided further hints that economic growth may be slowing, as the Fed hopes it will.

Monday Treasury will sell $7.5 billion each in three- and six-month bills, which yielded 4.98 percent and 5.14 percent in when-issued trading Friday.

First Couple Continues House Shopping

THE WASHINGTON POST -- WASHINGTON

President Clinton and his wife shopped for houses again Saturday in pricey Westchester County, N.Y., where they had the luxury of largely ignoring a liability that would sink many families: $5 million in legal debts.

The Clintons can realistically consider homes costing $2 million or more in Westchester -- from which the first lady hopes to launch a U.S. Senate bid -- because thousands of supporters are helping eliminate their debt and because the president will have dramatically increased earning power after he leaves office, financial advisers say. Their income potential will be even more eye-popping if Hillary Rodham Clinton avoids the Senate, whose ethics rules would bar her from the millions she probably could earn in her own right by making speeches, practicing law or serving on corporate boards.

Few couples would bother house hunting in Westchester County if they, like the Clintons, didn’t own a home but owed their lawyers more than $5 million. The Clintons, however, aren’t like most families. As Ronald Reagan demonstrated when he collected $2 million for a handful of speeches in Japan soon after leaving the White House in 1989, ex-presidents can command staggering fees for personal appearances, books or endorsements.

“She says she would like to write another book,” Berry said, “but has not indicated when, or what the topic would be.”