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New depression prompts tropical storm warnings in the Caribbean

MIAMI, FLORIDA (BNO NEWS) -- A new tropical depression formed east of the Lesser Antilles in the Atlantic on early Tuesday morning, prompting tropical storm watches and warnings across a swath of islands in the Caribbean, forecasters said. The storm is expected to become a hurricane later this week.

Forecasters at the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) have been following the weather system since Friday morning when it emerged as an area of disorganized showers and thunderstorms near the west coast of Africa. It slowly became better organized as the system made its way across the Atlantic.

As of 5 a.m. AST (0900 GMT) on Tuesday, the center of Tropical Depression Nine was located about 715 miles (1,150 kilometers) east of the Leeward Islands, a group of islands which form the northern Lesser Antilles. The depression is moving toward the west at nearly 20 miles (32 kilometers) per hour.

"The large low pressure system that has been traversing the central tropical Atlantic for the past few days has acquired enough organized deep convection near the center to be classified as a tropical depression," said NHC senior hurricane specialist Stacy Stewart. He said the depression has maximum sustained winds near 35 miles (55 kilometers) per hour, with higher gusts.

The system is likely to become a tropical storm later on Tuesday and should then continue to strengthen, becoming a hurricane on Thursday and possibly a major category three hurricane later this week. It has prompted tropical storm warnings for scores of islands in the eastern Caribbean, and further warnings are likely to be issued.

As of Tuesday morning, tropical storm warnings are in effect for the French islands of Guadeloupe, La Désirade, Les Saintes, Marie-Galante, and Saint Martin, the British overseas territories of Montserrat and Anguilla, and the island nations of Dominica, Saint Kitts and Nevis, and Antigua and Barbuda.

Tropical storm watches have further been issued for the U.S. unincorporated territory of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Vieques, Culebra, the British Virgin Islands, and the Dutch islands of Saba, Sint Eustatius, and Sint Maarten.

"Other than some modest northeasterly vertical wind shear for the next 24 hours or so, environmental conditions are expected to be quite favorable for intensification to occur," Stewart said. "During days 2-3, the vertical shear is forecast to be the weakest and water temperatures the warmest, and that is when the most significant strengthening should occur."

The depression is the ninth tropical cyclone of the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season, which officially began on June 1. It follows Gordon which formed over the north-central Atlantic last week and moved over the eastern Azores as a category two hurricane, causing some damage but no casualties.

According to a forecast released earlier this month, NOAA's Climate Prediction Center is expecting a near-normal hurricane season in the Atlantic this year. The outlook calls for twelve to seventeen named storms, with five to eight becoming hurricanes and two to three of them expected to become a major hurricane (category 3 or higher).

Based on the period from 1981 to 2010, an average Atlantic hurricane season produces twelve named storms, with six becoming hurricanes and three becoming major hurricanes. The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 through November 30, with peak activity between August and October.

(Copyright 2012 by BNO News B.V. All rights reserved. Info: sales@bnonews.com.)

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