Image: Cuban resident
Jorge Rey  /  AP
A resident in the town of Batabano, Cuba, reinforces the roof of his house in preparation for the arrival of Tropical Storm Arlene.
updated 6/9/2005 4:15:18 PM ET 2005-06-09T20:15:18

Tropical Storm Arlene developed Thursday in the northwest Caribbean Sea, edging closer to western Cuba as the Atlantic hurricane season's first named storm. Gulf Coast residents, including those in storm-battered Florida, were warned to beware.

Arlene had maximum sustained winds of 40 mph after strengthening from a tropical depression that formed Wednesday, the National Hurricane Center in Miami said. Tropical storms have top sustained winds of 39 mph to 74 mph.

At 2 p.m., the storm's center was about 150 miles south-southeast of the western tip of Cuba. It was moving north at about 8 mph, and this motion could bring the storm's center near western Cuba as early as Thursday night, forecasters said.

The large storm's winds and rain extended 150 miles to the north and east from its poorly organized center, meaning parts of the Florida Keys could start getting rain Thursday, forecasters said.

Florida to Louisiana on alert
Arlene was expected to enter the Gulf of Mexico by Friday, and residents from Florida to Louisiana were told to keep an eye on the tropical storm.

"Our best estimate of the track possibilities are that anywhere from Louisiana to the Florida Panhandle could expect the center to be approaching them by the middle of the weekend," hurricane specialist Richard Knabb said.

Forecasters said Arlene was likely to remain a tropical storm, but Navy meteorologist Lt. Dave Roberts said there was an "outside shot" that the system could develop into a weak hurricane, depending on atmospheric conditions.

State meteorologist Ben Nelson said Florida Panhandle residents should prepare for possible heavy rainfall and flooding this weekend.

"The coastal flood threat over there is something to keep an eye on because the dunes, the offshore structures, have been changed around by Ivan," Nelson said.

Still recovering from last year's hurricane
People in the Florida Panhandle are still recovering from last year's Hurricane Ivan, including 69-year-old retiree Jim Milliken, who lost his house to the storm. Sitting outside his temporary mobile home, Milliken said he would probably stay there unless the storm got much stronger.

"I've been here a long time, so I'm used to this. Of course, Ivan was by far the worst we've ever had," Milliken said. "I have to assume the probabilities are in my favor and it's not going to be a really big, bad thing this time."

The Cuban government has issued a tropical storm watch for the western province of Pinar Del Rio to the capital of Havana. A tropical storm warning also was in effect for the Cayman Islands and the Dry Tortugas, a cluster of islands about 70 miles west of Key West that comprise a U.S. national park. Other than park personnel, there are no permanent residents.

The storm was causing heavy rains and squalls across the Cayman Islands and western and central Cuba. Forecasters warned that very heavy rains in Nicaragua and Honduras could cause flash floods and mud slides.

The storm could drop as much as 5 to 10 inches of rain in affected areas, meteorologists said.

Last year, the first named storm of the season was Tropical Storm Alex, which formed Aug. 1. It later became a hurricane and came within 9 miles of the Outer Banks, N.C.

Within weeks, Florida was struck by Hurricane Charley, the first of four hurricanes to hit the state last season. It was followed by hurricanes Frances, Ivan and Jeanne. The four hurricanes damaged one out of every five homes in Florida.

The storms caused about 130 deaths in the U.S. and are blamed for a total $22 billion in insured damage.

Hurricane season began June 1 and ends Nov. 30.

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