Tropical Storm Chris retained its strength as it headed west toward Cuba Friday, prompting authorities to post storm warnings -- meaning severe weather was expected within 24 hours -- for the Turks and Caicos islands and the southeastern Bahamas.
Forecasters had thought Chris would fizzle into a tropical depression before nearing U.S. oil facilities in the Gulf of Mexico, but they said the storm’s maximum sustained winds remained near 40 mph and little change in strength was expected in the next 24 hours.
At 2 a.m. EDT, tropical storm watches, meaning storm conditions were expected within 36 hours, were up for the central Bahamas, and the northern coasts of Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
With Chris only a minimal tropical storm, forecasters’ main concern was the up to 5 inches of rain it could dump in mountainous areas.
Chris’ center was about 80 miles east-southeast of Grand Turk Island, the capital island of the Turks and Caicos chain, at 2 a.m., and heading west near 13 mph. On that track, Chris was expected to pass north of the Dominican Republic and Haiti and near or over the Turks and Caicos on Friday.
It would then cross Cuba and reach the Gulf of Mexico by Monday morning.
Energy prices ease
Energy prices had eased as Chris weakened. Oil and natural gas prices had risen on the possible threat to drilling platforms and exploration rigs in the Gulf, where hurricanes Katrina and Rita fueled up on unusually warm water before slamming into Louisiana and Texas last year.
The 2005 hurricanes shut a quarter of U.S. crude output and sent oil prices to record highs.
Experts have predicted this year could see another active Atlantic hurricane season, although nothing like the record 28 storms seen in 2005. Chris was the third tropical storm of the 2006 season.
Forecasters lowered their activity predictions for this year Thursday. The Colorado State University team formed by pioneer researcher William Gray predicted up to 15 tropical storms would form in the Atlantic-Caribbean basin, with seven growing into hurricanes.
Earlier forecasts had anticipated up 17 tropical storms, with nine strengthening into hurricanes.