August 24, 2005

Tropical Storm Katrina aims at Florida

MIAMI (Reuters) - Tropical Storm Katrina formed in the
central Bahamas on Wednesday and headed toward Florida's
southern Atlantic Coast with the potential to become a

Katrina was expected to hit the Miami area by Friday as a
strong tropical storm or a weak hurricane, dumping up to 12
inches of rain on the southern tip of Florida as it moved
slowly across the state into the Gulf of Mexico, forecasters at
the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

Some isolated areas could get up to 20 inches of rain, said
Jennifer Pralgo, a meteorologist at the hurricane center.

"It's going to soak us," Pralgo said.

With top winds of 40 mph (65 kph), Katrina was just over
the threshold to become the 11th tropical storm of a busy
Atlantic hurricane season. It was moving slowly over warm
water, conditions that made it likely it could strengthen into
a minimal hurricane with winds of at least 74 mph (118 kph).

A hurricane watch was issued for a 170-mile (270-km)
stretch of Florida's densely populated southern Atlantic Coast
from Florida City to Vero Beach, alerting residents to expect
hurricane-force winds within 36 hours. The area includes the
cities of Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach.

Storm warnings and watches were also posted for part of the
Florida Keys and the central and northern Bahamas.

At 11 a.m. EDT (1500 GMT), Katrina was centered about 50
miles east-southeast of Nassau, Bahamas, or about 230 miles
east-southeast of Miami.

The storm was moving erratically northwest. Skies over the
Bahamian capital of Nassau were gray and drizzly and Katrina
was expected to drench the central and northwest Bahamas on
Wednesday and batter the shore with large and dangerous waves.

Water managers in Florida were pumping vigorously to lower
the water level in their drainage canals so the storm run-off
would have somewhere to go.

"We're in 24-hour-a-day operations to adjust the canal
levels roughly a foot in most areas," said Randy Smith, a
spokesman for the South Florida Water Management District. "We
know they're going to fill back up."

The district has been pumping water out almost steadily
since September, when the last of four 2004 hurricanes hit
Florida with record levels of rain. The state had an unusually
wet winter -- normally the dry season -- followed by twice the
normal rainfall in June, Smith said.

Most of the state is waterlogged as the
June-through-November hurricane season approaches its
traditional peak.

"We're in fairly good shape considering the situation we're
in right now," Smith said. "It's really the next storm that
we're concerned about."