Hurricane Lorenzo poses flood threat even as weakens towards Portugal's Azores

TERCEIRA, PORTUGAL: Hurricane Lorenzo could still cause life-threatening flash floods even as it weakens as it approaches Portugal's Azores archipelago, the National Hurricane Centre said.

The storm briefly strengthened to a category 5 hurricane on Saturday evening, becoming the strongest hurricane on record this far north and east in the Atlantic, but has since been downgraded.

The Miami-based weather forecaster NHC said early on Monday that Lorenzo was now a category 2 hurricane, moving north at 13 mph (20 kph), with its eye expected to pass near the Azores early on Wednesday.

The NHC said further weakening was expected during the next two days but Lorenzo was set to remain a large and powerful hurricane.

Carrying 105 mph (170 kph) winds, Lorenzo is set to produce up to 4 inches (10 cm) of rainfall over much of western Azores on Tuesday and Wednesday. Central Azores will be hit by 1 inch of rainfall, the NHC said.

"This rainfall could cause life-threatening flash flooding in the western Azores," NHC said, adding the storm is now 1,125 miles (1,815 km) southwest of Azores.

The economy of the Azores is highly dependent on industries such as agriculture, fishing and tourism which can be easily disrupted by catastrophic weather events.

The NHC said the islands of Flores, Corvo, Faial, Pico, Sao Jorge, Graciosa, Terceira were on hurricane watch, while the islands of Sao Miguel and Santa Maria were under tropical storm watches. Such warnings are issued when a hurricane or a tropical storm is likely within the area.