27th tropical storm forms, ties date record


ORLANDO, Fla. -- This year's record-shattering hurricane season just won't die.

A month after the season officially ended, Tropical Storm Zeta formed in the eastern Atlantic Ocean, becoming the 27th named storm of 2005 and tying a 1954 record for the latest storm.

Zeta, about 1,000 miles south-southwest of the Azores with maximum sustained winds of near 50 mph, was not expected to become a hurricane, threaten land or even stick around for the New Year.

"Fortunately, Zeta is more of a curiosity than a life-threatening event," said Chris Landsea, science and operations officer for the National Hurricane Center west of Miami.

Even so, Landsea said, forecasters were "incredulous" as they watched a bunch of thunderstorms swirl into a small tropical storm during the final days of 2005.

"We've already got a record-breaking year, and here's yet another amazing aspect," he said.

Of the 27 named storms of 2005, 14 became hurricanes. Both numbers are records for a single season.

While other systems have formed in December, such storms are rare, Landsea said.

Earlier this month, Hurricane Epsilon became only the fifth hurricane to form in December in 154 years of record keeping.

If Tropical Storm Zeta had waited until January, it would have been dubbed Tropical Storm Alberto - the first named storm of 2006, coming a full six months before the official start of hurricane season, Landsea said.

Forecasters said Zeta would probably weaken by today.

Laurin Sellers writes for the Orlando Sentinel.

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