August 1, 2006

Tropical Storm Gains Force Off Caribbean Islands

MIAMI - Tropical Storm Chris, the third of the hurricane season, formed on Tuesday in the Atlantic Ocean east of the Leeward Islands, prompting storm alerts for some of the small northeastern Caribbean islands and Puerto Rico.

Chris, with maximum sustained winds of about 60 mph (97 kph), was about 55 miles northeast of Antigua at 5 p.m. EDT (2100 GMT), the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said.

The hurricane center said the storm, which had strengthened significantly during the day, was expected to pass over or near the northernmost Leeward Islands Tuesday night and early Wednesday.

Chris could become a minimum-force hurricane in 72 hours, according to hurricane center's forecast, as it increased the expected intensity of the storm.

The center said in a special discussion bulletin posted on its Web site that Chris's maximum sustained winds could reach 65 knots by Friday, just over the 64-knot, or 74 miles per hour (119 km per hour) threshold at which tropical storms are classified as hurricanes.

Chris was moving to the west-northwest at about 10 mph (17 kph) on a path that would take it north of Puerto Rico and the island of Hispaniola, shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

It would reach the central Bahamas by Sunday, headed toward the southeast Florida coast, forecasters said.

A tropical storm warning, telling residents to expect storm conditions within 24 hours, was issued for Antigua and Barbuda, St. Kitts and Nevis, Anguilla, Saba, St. Eustatius, St. Barthelemy, St. Martin, Puerto Rico and the U.S. and British Virgin Islands.

The second storm of the season, Tropical Storm Beryl, skirted the North Carolina coast and blew over Nantucket Island and other northeastern tourist playgrounds in July.

The first storm of what is expected to be a busy June to November hurricane season was Alberto, which moved ashore harmlessly in the Florida Panhandle in mid-June.

Forecasters have predicted up to 17 tropical storms and hurricanes this year. Last year saw a record 28, including Hurricane Katrina, the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history. It devastated New Orleans and other parts of the Gulf Coast and killed more than 1,300 people.

(Additional reporting by Michael Christie in Miami)