July 20, 2006

US Northeast Under Storm Warning Ahead of Beryl

MIAMI (Reuters) - Tropical Storm Beryl, the second cyclone of the 2006 Atlantic hurricane season, weakened on Thursday as it headed toward Cape Cod and other popular northeastern U.S. vacation playgrounds.

Beryl's sustained winds dropped from 60 miles per hour (97 km per hour) to 50 mph (80 kph) as it churned through the Atlantic on a path expected to take it near or over Nantucket Island and southeastern Cape Cod later on Thursday or early on Friday.

The storm's most likely path, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami, would take it over the Canadian province of Nova Scotia on Friday.

At 5 p.m. (2100 GMT), Beryl's center was about 155 miles

southwest of Nantucket, Massachusetts, and the system was moving to the northeast at about 14 mph (23 kph), the hurricane center said.

A tropical storm warning, meaning residents could see storm conditions within 24 hours, was in effect from Plymouth to Woods Hole, Massachusetts, including the summer vacation destinations of Cape Cod, Nantucket Island and Martha's Vineyard.

A tropical storm watch, meaning storm conditions were possible within 36 hours, was also imposed from west of Woods Hole to New Haven, Connecticut, and eastern Long Island.

Rainfall from Beryl was already affecting Long Island and the New England coast, the hurricane center said. Tropical storms rarely pose a threat to developed countries but can bring torrential rain.

Forecasters expect a busy June 1-November 30 Atlantic hurricane season this year, with up to 17 tropical storms.

Last year saw a record 28 tropical storms, 15 of which strengthened into hurricanes with winds of at least 74 mph (119 kph). Among them was Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans, killed more than 1,300 people and became the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history.

The first tropical storm of the 2006 season, Alberto, came harmlessly ashore in the Florida Panhandle on June 13.