August 24, 2005

Tropical Storm Katrina threatening Florida

MIAMI (Reuters) - Tropical Storm Katrina formed in the
central Bahamas on Wednesday and was expected to gather
strength over warm Atlantic waters and become a hurricane
before hitting Florida's crowded southeast coast.

Katrina could reach the Miami area late on Thursday or
early on Friday, dumping up to 12 inches of rain on southern
Florida as it moved slowly across the state into the Gulf of
Mexico, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

"I just don't see any reason why we shouldn't see some
additional strengthening," hurricane center director Max
Mayfield told Miami's WSVN television, pointing to warm waters
between the Bahamas and Florida, which fuel tropical cyclones.

Some 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 50 mph (80 kph) by 11 p.m. EDT (0300
GMT), the 11th tropical storm of a busy Atlantic hurricane
season was 60 miles southeast of Freeport on Grand Bahama
island and 135 miles east of Florida.

It would become a minimal Category 1 hurricane, capable of
damaging flimsy trailer homes and stripping leaves off trees,
once its winds reached 74 mph (118 kph). At least one weather
forecasting model called for Katrina to become much stronger
than that before landfall, the hurricane center said.

U.S. crude prices shot to a new record of $67.32 a barrel,
for October delivery, because of worries the storm could affect
U.S. oil and gas production in the Gulf of Mexico.

Punished last season by four powerful hurricanes in a
six-week period, Florida residents snapped up drinking water
and spare batteries from stores. Some filled sandbags to
protect homes from flooding, which appeared likely to be more
of a threat than Katrina's winds.


A hurricane warning 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 24 hours. The area includes the
cities of Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach -- all of which
were largely spared by last year's unusual series of storms.

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

Katrina was moving westward at 8 mph (13 kph). Skies over
the Bahamian capital of Nassau were gray and drizzly.

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 last September, when the last of the 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.

Hurricane forecasters have predicted an unusually high
number of storms this year because the Atlantic has swung into
a multi-decade period of more intense storm activity.

Some climatologists say global warming is also likely to
increase the average intensity of Atlantic hurricanes and their
rainfall totals, but not necessarily affect their numbers.