LISBON (Reuters) - Hurricane Alex toppled trees, cut power and flooded some homes in the Azores on Friday but the destruction was less than feared as the eye of the storm missed the archipelago by 20 km (12 miles).
There were no reports of casualties. Residents of the seven Portuguese islands had reinforced doors and windows with plywood and sandbags on Friday, and schools and administrative buildings were closed.
"The zone of the hurricane with the strongest winds is over the sea," said Nuno Moreira, meteorologist at the Portuguese Sea and Atmosphere Institute.
"So gusts are somewhat weaker than initially feared."
See more of the rare January storm:
Hurricane Alex, rare January storm in the Atlantic Ocean
Hurricane Alex hits Azores less hard than feared
This photo taken from video provided by NASA on Friday, Jan. 15, 2016 shows Hurricane Alex seen from the International Space Station. The rare January hurricane in the Atlantic closed in on the Azores on Friday, with authorities in the Portuguese islands warning of waves up to 18 meters (60 feet) high, wind gusts up to 160 kph (100 mph) and torrential rain. (NASA via AP)
This image was taken by GOES East at 1445Z on January 14, 2016. Alex is not just the first named storm for the 2016 calendar year. It's also the first named storm to form in the Atlantic in January since 1978, the first January-born hurricane since 1938, and just the fourth known storm to arrive in the month since records began in 1851. (Photo via NOAA)
This NOAA satellite image taken Friday, Jan. 15, 2016 at 12:45 AM EST shows a stationary front over the southern Bahamas and Cuba. Rain showers and isolated accompany this boundary as it slowly drifts to the south. The remainder of the basin is quiet with mostly sunny skies. In contrast, Hurricane Alex is over the central Atlantic Basin. Alex has maximum winds of 80 miles per hour and will affect the Azores as it moves northward. (Weather Underground via AP)
Hurricane Alex in a satellite photo released by NOAA on Jan. 14, 2016. (Photo via NOAA)
This image of Subtropical Storm Alex was taken by the Suomi NPP satellite's VIIRS instrument around 1455Z on January 13, 2016. (Photo via NOAA)
It is mid-January, and there is a hurricane in the Atlantic Ocean https://t.co/fWG7GpMGNr https://t.co/DQJFTFLVa6
Rather stunning images of Hurricane Alex passing through the Azores on this, the 15th of January. https://t.co/kwqGz7vOq9
This is #HurricaneAlex - 1938 was the last time an Atlantic hurricane formed in January. https://t.co/kKwaVYV8Ev AJ https://t.co/FDcbNH97Ej
Today in doomsday signs: Hurricane Alex becomes the first January hurricane in almost 80 years: https://t.co/oBQb0yDHpK
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Hurricanes usually form above warmer water in the June-November period. Alex is the first to have emerged in the Atlantic in January since 1938, according to U.S. meteorologists.
"The intensity of the hurricane itself is not likely to diminish for now, but as it starts to open distance from the archipelago, the forecast is for gusts to diminish gradually in the Azores in the coming hours," Moreira said.
Alex is a "Category 1" hurricane, the weakest rating on the five-tier Saffir-Simpson scale. As it heads north towards colder waters its intensity is likely to decline.
Forecasters had expected gusts to reach 160 km (100 miles) an hour and waves to be as high as 18 meters (60 ft), but in the event winds on the islands blew at 100-130 km an hour and waves rarely exceeded 10 meters.
The Azores, 1,500 km west of mainland Portugal, were last hit by hurricanes in 2012.
(Reporting by Andrei Khalip; editing by Andrew Roche)