Depression could become hurricane

From staff, wire reports

The outer bands of a tropical depression brought rain squalls to the southern Cape Verde islands in the far eastern Atlantic today, forecasters said.

At 11 a.m. EDT, the depression that formed Monday was centered 140 miles southwest of the southernmost Cape Verde and was moving toward the west-northwest near 17 mph. The government of Cape Verde, 350 miles off the African coast, discontinued a tropical storm warning as the system passed.

The storm had maximum sustained winds near 35 mph, 4 mph below the threshold for a tropical storm and well below hurricane strength of 74 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center. But it was expected to become a tropical storm by Wednesday and would take the name Debby.

Forecasters said the system was expected to head northwest later in the day and long-range forecasts show it nearing Bermuda in about a week. But it was still too early to tell if it would hit land, senior hurricane specialist James Franklin said.

There have been three named storms in the 2006 Atlantic hurricane season.

The long-range forecast from the National Hurricane Center predicts the system will be a minimal Category 1 hurricane by Saturday with sustained winds just over the threshold of 74 mph.

Most of the computer models have the storm taking a northward curve away from the United States. However, two models have the system weakening a drifting westward.

In their forecast discussion, hurricane forecasters said yesterday: “There is good agreement in the global models that the cyclone will encounter increased southerly shear. This could turn the cyclone northward … if the system can hang together. Alternatively … the system could shear off and the weakened remnants turn westward.”

The depression was about 3,600 miles from Melbourne, Florida, Tuesday.

“This is the best scenario for us in terms of the track of the system, taking it into the central Atlantic,” WKMG Local 6 meteorologist Larry Mowry said. “It is a good nine, maybe 10 days away from coming anywhere near the United States.”

“… If it stays on the track to the north and west, it will likely move into the central Atlantic and just be a storm that falls apart,” Mowry said.

The Atlantic basin has been eerily quiet as August wanes with a relatively tame hurricane season in place so far.

In the Cayman Islands residents and visitors can expect several days of showers and thunderstorms.

The hurricane season usually shows a quick jump in named storms in August and September as sea surface temperatures rise and westerly winds calm down. The peak of the Atlantic season is Sept. 10.

Forecasters say high pressure and dry conditions are limiting development of tropical systems in the Atlantic and Caribbean Sea.

Only three tropical storms and one depression have been named so far this year — none of them grew to hurricane status, which requires sustained winds of 74 mph or higher.

In 2005, the Atlantic had nine named storms through mid-August, four of which reached hurricane status. Katrina – the fifth named hurricane of 2005 – was born on Aug. 23 off the Bahamas.

Six days later, Katrina smashed ashore near New Orleans, killing more than 1,300 people along the Gulf Coast.

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