Tropical storm season heats up early, Gulf Coast braces for two

Cindy is expected to hit Louisiana today

Dennis developing to southeast

July 06, 2005|By Wes Smith | Wes Smith,ORLANDO SENTINEL

ORLANDO, Fla. - Gulf Coast residents were put on alert yesterday as two tropical storms headed toward Louisiana, setting a record - and potentially ominous - pace for the young 2005 hurricane season.

Tropical Storm Cindy was expected to hit the north-central Gulf Coast early today. The National Weather Service issued a tropical-storm warning from Intracoastal City, La., east to Destin, Fla.

A more-threatening Tropical Storm Dennis, meanwhile, formed yesterday about 1,000 miles southeast of Key West in the Caribbean Sea. It was expected to strengthen into a Category 1 hurricane that could skirt Florida's southwest tip before slipping into the Gulf early next week.

Since official records were first kept in 1851, there have been only 12 years when two or more tropical storms formed in June - the first month of the hurricane season that ends each year on Nov. 30.

Tropical Storm Arlene hit the Florida Panhandle in mid-June, dropping nearly 7 inches of rain in some parts of the Gulf Coast. Tropical Storm Bret followed on June 28.

Dennis, then, has the dubious distinction of being the earliest fourth storm ever, according to Frank Lepore, a spokesman for the National Hurricane Center.

"But what does that portend? There is no precedent, so there is no way of telling," Lepore said.

And there is no known relationship between the number of early storms - or late storms - and the frequency of storm activity for a given season, he said.

"It's an intriguing notion, but generally there is not any correlation. The other thing is that 154 years is a pretty small sampling since hurricanes probably began tens of thousands of years ago," Lepore said. "We know they are cyclical but it's pretty hard to tell where we are in a cycle over the longer period."

Typically, the first tropical storms of a hurricane season appear in the second week of July and the first hurricanes don't threaten until mid-August.

Late yesterday, Cindy was tracking on a path toward Terrabonne Parish, La. Its shape suggests that it could spawn tornadoes and other "sloppy weather" to the east into Florida, Lepore said. The storm is expected to strengthen but remain below hurricane strength.

Storm surges of 3 to 5 feet above normal and rainfall accumulations of 4 to 6 inches and higher were possible for areas saturated by Tropical Storm Arlene last month.

Dennis' forecast track takes it toward Cuba and the eastern Gulf of Mexico over the next three to five days. Forecasters said long-range models show that Dennis could hit the southwest edge of Florida before moving into the Gulf early next week.

"It is too early to think about a track into Florida, but you want to keep an eye on it," said Tony Cristaldi, senior forecaster with National Weather Service.

Forecasters have predicted a "very active" hurricane season for 2005 with 15 major storms and possibly eight hurricanes.

"The forecasts have been for an above-average season, so this doesn't come as much of a surprise," Cristaldi said.

"But it doesn't necessarily indicate that it'll be an even more active season than predicted because there have been seasons that started fast and finished slow and some that started slow and finished fast."

The Orlando Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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