August 25, 2006

Tropical weather system could become Ernesto soon

MIAMI (Reuters) - Swirling thunderstorms in the eastern
Caribbean Sea could become Tropical Storm Ernesto on Friday and
a hurricane next week, forecasters said, while Tropical Storm
Debby weakened in the Atlantic far from land.

The Atlantic hurricane season's fifth tropical depression
was on a track that was expected to take it near Jamaica on
Sunday, the Cayman Islands on Monday and either into Mexico's
Yucatan peninsula or the Gulf of Mexico by Tuesday.

Energy traders were watching the system closely as it edged
closer to the Gulf, where hurricanes temporarily knocked out
much of the region's crude oil and natural gas production last
year. The Gulf provides about a quarter of U.S. oil and gas.

At 11 a.m. EDT (1500 GMT), the center of the system was
about 340 miles south of San Juan, Puerto Rico, and was moving
to the west at about 15 miles per hour (24 km per hour), the
U.S. National Hurricane Center said. It was expected to turn
toward the west-northwest in the next day.

Sustained winds were about 35 mph (56 kph) and forecasters
said the system could become Tropical Storm Ernesto on Friday.

It was expected to become the Atlantic season's first
hurricane with winds of 74 mph (119 kph) by Monday, when it
would be in the vicinity of the Cayman Islands, forecasters

The system could drop 1 to 2 inches of rain on parts of the
Netherlands Antilles, Puerto Rico and Hispaniola, the island
shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

In the eastern Atlantic, Debby was barely clinging to
tropical storm status with 40 mph (64 kph) winds.

The Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to
November 30, has been relatively quiet so far, with just four
tropical storms and no hurricanes. But activity usually revs up
between mid-August and late October.