TS Alpha forms, breaking record for most Atlantic storms - 23 October, 2005

Tropical Storm Alpha formed Saturday in the Caribbean Sea, setting the record for the most named storms in an Atlantic hurricane season, forecasters said.

Alpha is the season's 22nd tropical storm, the most since record keeping began in 1851. It marks the first time a letter from the Greek alphabet has been used because the list of storm names was exhausted. The previous record of 21 storms stood since 1933.

"We've gone through the list of 21 and we've started with the Greek alphabet," National Hurricane Center Director Max Mayfield said. "We are just hoping we don't have to use any more of those Greek letters."

At 11 p.m. EDT (0300 GMT), the storm had sustained winds near 50 mph (80 kph) and was moving northwest near 14 mph (22.5 kph), the National Hurricane Center in Miami said. Alpha was located about 55 miles (88 kilometers) south-southwest of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic.

Tropical storm warnings were in place for Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and the Turks and Caicos islands and the southeastern Bahamas. The storm was expected to produce total rain accumulations of 4 to 8 inches (10 to 20 centimeters) over much of Hispaniola, with possible isolated accumulations of 15 inches (38 centimeters) in the mountains, and could produce life-threatening flash floods and mud slides.

Alpha was expected to move inland over the Dominican Republic early Sunday, and to turn north after it made landfall.

"(Alpha) is not going to be a threat to the United States. I want to make that very clear," Mayfield said.

The U.S. Gulf Coast was already battered this year by Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Dennis _ and Wilma will be next. Wilma had winds of about 100 mph (160 kph) over the Yucatan Peninsula on Saturday and was expected to approach southern Florida on Monday.

The storms are part of a frantic hurricane season which has seen an increase in storm activity as part of a cycle that started in 1995 and is 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. Some researchers argue that global warming fueled by man's generation of greenhouse gases is the culprit.

Forecasters at the hurricane center say the busy seasons are part of a natural cycle that can last for at least 20 years, and sometimes up to 40 or 50. They say the conditions are similar to those when the Atlantic was last in a period of high activity in the 1950s and 60s.

It's difficult to know whether the Atlantic was even busier at any time before record keeping began 154 years ago. And satellites have only been tracking tropical weather since the 1960s, so some storms that just stayed at sea or hit unpopulated areas before then could have escaped notice.

The six-month hurricane season ends Nov. 30. Wilma was the last on the list of storm names for 2005; there are 21 names on the yearly list because the letters q, u, x, y and z are skipped. The use of the Greek alphabet has never happened in roughly 60 years of regularly named Atlantic storms.

In Florida, which likely will see its eighth storm in the past two years when Wilma strikes, fear and frustration have become regular feelings as systems develop in the tropics.

In Key West _ where Wilma remained a threat _ a resident who heard of Alpha's development summed up the feelings of many Floridians.

"Oh, lovely, that's nice," said a sarcastic John Cline, a guest house worker having a drink at Mangoes Restaurant on Duval Street in Key West. "Will it ever end?", AP reported. V.A.

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