Tropical storm warning for Cayman Islands as depression hovers in Atlantic

Residents of the Cayman Islands braced for strong rain and gusty winds Sunday as a tropical depression hovered near the low-lying territory and threatened to become a named storm.

The slow-moving system could become Tropical Storm Wilma later Sunday, which would make it the 21st named storm of the season, tying the record for the most storms in an Atlantic season, the National Hurricane Center in Miami said.

The only other time that many storms have formed since record keeping began 154 years ago was in 1933, when Franklin Delano Roosevelt was president and the United States was in the midst of the Great Depression.

At 2 p.m. EDT (1800GMT), the tropical depression was centered about 195 miles (315 kilometers) southeast of Grand Cayman, forecasters said. It has been almost stationary over the past few hours and had sustained winds near 35 mph (56 kph). Depressions become tropical storms when their winds reach 39 mph (63 kph).

Long-term forecasts show the storm would likely move in a general westward direction for the next three days, then turn to the north. Such a scenario would put the storm in the Gulf of Mexico by later this week, and forecasters said water temperature and other conditions were favorable for it to become a significant hurricane.

A hurricane watch was issued for the Cayman Islands, meaning hurricane conditions could be felt there within 36 hours. A tropical storm warning, meaning tropical storm conditions within 24 hours, also was posted.

The depression is expected to bring 4 inches (10 centimeters) to 6 inches (15 centimeters) of rain in the Cayman Islands and Jamaica, with as much as 12 inches (30 centimeters) possible in some areas, forecasters said.

"Folks there are at least getting some showers and some pretty gusty winds so if this thing does strengthen ... certainly there's a possibility for hurricane force winds in those areas," said Hugh Cobb, a forecaster at the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

Many residents in the Cayman Islands still had storm shutters up from last year's Hurricane Ivan, which destroyed 70 percent of buildings on Grand Cayman, the largest island in the three-island British territory of 45,000 people.

"I still have all the supplies from the previous storms this season, basically a lot of peanut M&M's, so I am ready just in case," 51-year-old resident Susan Craig said.

Boat owners pulled their vessels into canals and tied them up to prevent them from being tossed by heavy surf and wind.

The chairman of the Cayman Islands' National Hurricane Center, Donovan Ebanks, said authorities had been monitoring the weather for several days.

"Because of where it is, and the fact that it is projected to become a tropical storm by tomorrow and possibly a hurricane in a couple of days, we've decided to go ahead and issue a tropical storm warning and a hurricane watch," he said.

Hurricane season ends Nov. 30, AP reported. V.A.

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