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Chris downgraded to tropical depression

Tropical Storm Chris weakened into a depression Friday as strong winds in the upper atmosphere over the Caribbean robbed the cyclone of its punch. 
/ Source: The Associated Press

Tropical Storm Chris weakened into a depression Friday morning in the eastern Caribbean.

At 8 a.m. ET, the storm had maximum sustained winds of about 35 mph, 4 mph below the threshold for a tropical storm. Forecasters said it might creep up to tropical storm strength again but wouldn’t go much farther than that.

“It’s going to be hard for it to strengthen to a hurricane within the next five days,” meteorologist Robbie Berg said at the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

Forecasters expected Chris to head over Cuba and into the Gulf of Mexico, reaching Texas or Mexico by early Wednesday.

Early Friday, the depression’s center was about 20 miles south of Grand Turk Island in the southwestern Bahamas and was moving west at about 13 mph. It was expected to pass over Haiti, the Dominican Republic and the southeastern Bahamas on Friday with anywhere from 2 to 6 inches of rain.

Puerto Rico’s Fajardo River spilled its banks Thursday afternoon and sent water gushing over a highway, temporarily shutting down the road in the U.S. territory’s northeast coast as the storm moved swept past the island.

There were no reports of major damage elsewhere in the Caribbean from Chris, which on Wednesday had threatened to become the first hurricane of the Atlantic season.

A tropical storm warning was in still in effect for the southeastern Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands. The warning included the Acklins, Crooked Island, The Inaguas, Mayaguana and the Ragged Islands.

Long Island and the Exumas in the central Bahamas were under tropical storm watches. Watches were canceled for Samana, the Dominican Republic and the northern coast of Haiti to La Mole St. Nicolas.

Experts had 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.

But some forecasters on Thursday lowered their activity predictions. 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.

The team's earlier forecast had anticipated up 17 tropical storms, with nine strengthening into hurricanes.