TS Alpha forms, breaking record for most Atlantic storms - 22 October, 2005

Tropical Storm Alpha formed Saturday in the Caribbean, setting the record for the most named storms in an Atlantic hurricane season and marking the first time forecasters had to turn to the Greek alphabet for names.

The previous record of 21 named storms had stood since 1933. Alpha was the 22nd to reach tropical storm strength this year, and the season doesn't end until Nov. 30.

At 5 p.m. EDT (2100 GMT), Alpha had sustained winds of about 40 mph (64 kph) _ 1 mph (1.6 kph) over the threshold for a tropical storm.

It was centered about 210 miles (338 kilometers) west-southwest of San Juan, Puerto Rico, and about 125 miles (201 kilometers) south-southeast of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, and moving northwest at about 15 mph (24 kph), the National Hurricane Center in Miami said.

A tropical storm warning was in place for Haiti and parts of the Dominican Republic, and a tropical storm watch was in effect for the Turks and Caicos islands and the southeastern Bahamas.

Since 1995, the Atlantic has been in a period of higher hurricane activity, a cycle expected to last at least another 10 years.

Scientists say the cause of the increase is a rise in ocean temperatures and a decrease in the amount of disruptive vertical wind shear that rips hurricanes apart.

The busy seasons are part of a natural cycle that can last for at least 20 years, and sometimes 40 to 50, forecasters at the hurricane center say. The current conditions, they say, are similar to those in the 1950s and 60s.

The U.S. Gulf Coast has been battered this year by Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Dennis _ and Wilma will be next. It had sustained winds of about 100 mph (161 kph) as it moved over the Yucatan Peninsula on Saturday and was expected to turn northeast, pushed by a strong wind current, and approach southern Florida on Monday. A hurricane watch was in effect for the state's entire southern peninsula.

Wilma was the last on the list of 21 storm names for 2005; the letters q, u, x, y and z are skipped. The Greek alphabet has provided a continuation for the list, but it has never been used in six decades of regularly naming Atlantic storms, AP reported. V.A.

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