updated 9/5/2006 5:45:56 PM ET 2006-09-05T21:45:56

Tropical Storm Florence formed far out in the open Atlantic on Tuesday, and forecasters said it will probably become a hurricane.

But they said it was too soon to tell if the sixth named storm of the hurricane season would reach the United States.

At 5 p.m. ET, Florence had sustained winds near 45 mph, 6 mph over the threshold for a tropical storm. The minimum for a hurricane is 74 mph.

“Our forecast does have it becoming a hurricane by Friday morning — minimal hurricane, Category 1,” National Hurricane Center meteorologist Mark Willis said.

The storm was centered 960 miles east of the Northern Leeward Islands, or about 2,100 miles southeast of Miami, and was moving west at about 12 mph.

The storm follows on the heels of Tropical Storm Ernesto, which was briefly the season’s first hurricane before weakening and hitting Florida and North Carolina last week as a tropical storm. It formed over the southern Caribbean on Aug. 25.

At least nine deaths in the United States were blamed on Ernesto, which also killed two people in Haiti, delayed the launch of the space shuttle Atlantis and blacked out thousands of homes and businesses from North Carolina to New York state.

Last year’s Atlantic storm season had a record 28 named storms and 15 hurricanes, including Katrina.

The 2006 Atlantic hurricane season has not been as rough as initially feared. The National Hurricane Center lowered its forecast in August to between 12 and 15 named storms and seven to nine hurricanes.

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