GEORGE TOWN, Cayman Islands – A tropical storm warning was in effect Sunday for the Cayman Islands (search) and residents began preparing for the worst. The U.S. Gulf Coast (search) could be affected later in the week, forecasters said.
The system could become Tropical Storm Wilma (search), 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 (search) in Miami said.
The only other time so many storms have formed since record-keeping began 154 years ago was in 1933.
At 2 p.m. EDT, the tropical depression was centered about 195 miles southeast of Grand Cayman, forecasters said. It was nearly stationary over the past several hours and had sustained winds near 35 mph. Depressions become tropical storms when their winds reach 39 mph.
Long-term forecasts show the storm would likely move west and north, putting the storm in the Gulf of Mexico later this week. Forecasters said water temperature and other conditions were favorable for it to become a significant hurricane.
"Once storms get into the Gulf of Mexico, I'm aware of only one storm on record that dissipated," hurricane specialist James Franklin said. "It has almost nowhere to go except land somewhere."
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 to 6 inches of rain in the Cayman Islands and Jamaica, with as much as 12 inches possible in some areas, forecasters said.
In the Cayman Islands, 51-year-old Susan Craig was ready.
"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," she said.
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.
In Jamaica (search), officials issued a flash flood warning for northwestern parts of the island. Jamaica's office of disaster preparedness said several businesses had been flooded in Montego Bay.
Hurricane season ends Nov. 30. Wilma is 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. If any other storms form, letters from the Greek alphabet would be used, starting with Alpha. That has never happened in roughly 60 years of regularly named Atlantic storms.