Tropical Storm Nicole heads north

MIAMI (AFP) – Tropical Storm Nicole formed Wednesday over Cuba and was churning northward, dumping heavy rains on the US state of Florida and moving toward the Bahamas, the US National Hurricane Center said.

Forecasters had warned that the storm could drench much of the US East Coast with torrential downpours, but a revised forecast track showed Nicole only sideswiping Florida’s southeast coast and heading northeast to set its sights on the tropical islands in the Atlantic.

The storm was now bearing sustained winds of some 40 miles (65 kilometers) per hour, and heading northeast at about nine miles (15 kilometers) per hour, the Miami-based National Hurricane Center said in a bulletin announcing Nicole.

“The center of Nicole will move over the Florida straits later this afternoon and move near or over the northwestern Bahamas tonight,” the NHC said.

The intense rainfall was the primary concern, with the storm expected to produce total accumulations of five to 10 inches (12.5 to 25 centimeters) over Cuba, the Cayman Islands just south of Cuba, and Jamaica to the east, the NHC said.

Florida could expect four to eight inches (10 to 20 centimeters) of rain, and isolated flooding was already being reported in islands off the coast.

Cuba was on alert as the storm lashed several provinces with heavy rain, as the communist-ruled island’s Civil Defense forces warned of potential flooding.

The storm had quickly formed as a depression in the Caribbean and threatened to intensify, triggering tropical storm warnings from Cuba to the Bahamas.

The NHC said little change in intensity was expected in the coming 24 hours and Nicole would be absorbed into a low pressure system on Thursday.

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