Tropical Storm Claudette, the third of the Atlantic hurricane season, formed on Sunday in the Gulf of Mexico east of the heaviest concentration of U.S. energy platforms, as two other storms, Ana and Bill, raced across the Atlantic.
The six-month season got off to a slow start with no storms in the first 2–Ѕ months but exploded this weekend as three tropical storms formed in just over a day.
The new system was expected to move ashore in the Florida panhandle, although at least one computer model showed it tracking farther west and hitting land near Mobile, Alabama. The greatest number of offshore oil and gas rigs span the coast from the mouth of Mobile Bay to Texas.
Claudette had sustained winds of 40 miles per hour (63 kilometres per hour) and was located about 200 miles (320 km) southeast of Pensacola, Florida, at 11 a.m. EDT (1500 GMT), the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.
A tropical storm warning was in effect from the Alabama- Florida border eastward to the Suwannee River in Florida.
Energy traders closely watch storms in the Gulf, which is home to almost half of U.S. refinery capacity, a quarter of oil production and 15 percent of natural gas output.
The small islands of the eastern Caribbean were on high alert for the possible arrival of two cyclones within days.
A tropical storm watch, alerting residents to storm conditions within 36 hours, was extended to Guadeloupe and other French islands, as well as Dominica. It now stretches from Puerto Rico — home to about 4 million people — to Dominica.
Ana, a minimal tropical storm with sustained winds of 40 mph (64 kph), was about 430 miles (690 km) east-southeast of the Leeward Islands and was hurtling westward at about 23 mph (37 kph), the hurricane center said. It was expected to reach the islands by early Monday.
ANA ON TRACK FOR HAITI
Ana was not expected to become a hurricane in the next five days but was on a track that could take it to Haiti, a poor Caribbean nation vulnerable to deadly floods from even weak tropical storms due to massive deforestation, and Cuba, which was hit hard by three hurricanes last year.
The bigger threat could come from Bill, which forecasters expected to whip up into a «major» Category 3 hurricane, with winds of more than 110 mph (177 kph), by Friday. Hurricanes of Category 3, 4 or 5 on the Saffir-Simpson intensity scale are the most destructive type.
Bill's sustained winds increased to 60 mph (97 kph) on Sunday but it was still 1,555 miles (2,500 km) east of the Lesser Antilles islands. It was headed to the west-northwest at about 16 mph (26 kph), the Miami-based hurricane center said.
On its most likely track, Bill would be well north of the northernmost Caribbean islands, headed in the general direction of the U.S. east coast, by Friday, forecasters said.
The busiest part of the six-month Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to Nov. 30, is from about the last week of August to mid-October.
Forecasters expected this season to be a bit less active than recent years, due in part to the formation of an El Nino event in the eastern Pacific.
The warm-water phenomenon tends to suppress hurricane activity in the Atlantic by increasing wind shear, which can tear apart nascent hurricanes.