HALIFAX, N.S. - Hurricane Bill is headed toward Canada's East Coast, but it's too soon to predict if the storm will make landfall, Environment Canada says.

Peter Bowyer, a supervisor at the Canadian Hurricane Centre, said the storm is expected to enter the region or its adjacent waters late Sunday - but even the time frame was in doubt.

"We will never use the word 'definite' on a five-day forecast, especially when it comes to tropical storms or hurricanes," Bowyer said in an interview.

When asked what residents should be doing to prepare for the storm, Bowyer stressed that storms like Bill often stay offshore.

"What they could be doing right now is not freaking out completely," he said.

"But at the same time, we do have a storm that all the forecasts are indicating is heading in the direction of Atlantic Canada some time for late weekend."

That means people in the region should remain calm, but take the time to get prepared, he said.

"What people can be doing right now is making sure that they're ready for hurricane season," said Bowyer. "It's no longer a theoretical discussion. There's one on the map. We're looking at it. It's name is Bill and he could be headed in our direction."

Bill, the second named storm of the hurricane season, was well south of Bermuda on Wednesday. It was expected to swing past the eastern edge of the Caribbean before heading north.

With maximum sustained winds clocked at 217 kilometres per hour, Bill was classed as a powerful Category 4 storm on the Saffir-Simpson scale.

Bowyer says some computer models suggest the storm will track through the Bay of Fundy, but others indicate it will stay out at sea.

As of Wednesday, the hurricane was headed northwest at about 25 kilometres per hour, Bowyer said.

"That's a fairly brisk forward speed for that far deep in the tropics," he said. "It's still a long ways deep into the southern Atlantic ... There's a variety of scenarios that could unfold ... It's hard to nail down."

Environment Canada said it expects to issue its first bulletin about Bill on Thursday.

Meanwhile, the approaching storm has forced a British rower to abort his solo crossing of the Atlantic in a three-metre boat.

Peter Bray, a 53-year-old former British commando, left St. John's, N.L., 43 days ago for the southwest tip of England.

Organizers confirmed that with 900 kilometres to go in his 2,800-kilometre journey, Bray was encountering rough seas that were expected to get worse as Bill moved north.

Bowyer said the Canadian Hurricane Centre's website - www.hurricanes.ca - includes advice on how to prepare for severe weather, as does a site offered by Public Safety Canada at www.getprepared.ca .

The National Hurricane Center in Miami said Bill could get even stronger as it howls over the Atlantic on a course that could bring it over Bermuda or to the west of the island.

The American agency said people living near the American coast can expect wave swells and rip currents in the next few days.

People in flood-prone Haiti and the Dominican Republic were spared the wrath of Ana, the first named storm of the Atlantic season, when it was downgraded to a tropical depression Tuesday.

Hurricane season in the North Atlantic runs from June 1 to Nov. 30 with the bulk of tropical storms coming between early August and early October, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the United States.

An average season produces about six hurricanes, the weakest of which churn out maximum sustained winds exceeding 119 kilometres per hour. The most powerful storms - Category 5 hurricanes - churn out winds over 249 kilometres per hour.

Experts at the Canadian Hurricane Centre say the number of storms forming over the Atlantic has no connection with the actual impact on Central and Eastern Canada. In other words, it would be wrong to assume that the more storms there are, the more likely Canadians will be affected by severe weather.

In 2006, for example, Canada was affected by 60 per cent of the nine named storms that formed that year. But that number dropped to 13 per cent in 2007 when there were 15 named storms.

Still, Canada has been hit by one or two dangerous, damaging storms every year since 2000.

In 2003, hurricane Juan lashed Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and parts of New Brunswick. A Category 2 hurricane, its sustained winds reached at least 154 kilometres per hour, causing $100 million in damage, mostly in Nova Scotia.

Seven deaths were linked to the storm, which delivered sudden gusts hitting 185 kilometres per hour.

The 2005 hurricane season was the most destructive on record with 27 named storms, including 15 hurricanes, including Katrina. That storm and the flooding that followed claimed more than 1,000 lives along the U.S. Gulf Coast.

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