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Hurricane Bill Gains Strength in Atlantic, Claudette Downgraded After Landfall

As Tropical Storm Claudette brought heavy rains to the Gulf Coast after landfall Monday, experts turned their attention to Hurricane Bill, slated to become the first major storm of the season within the next few days.

Just hours after forming in the Atlantic Monday, Bill had maximum sustained winds near 90 mph that were expected to gain speed and top 110 mph, the threshold for a major hurricane.

"We do believe (Bill) could become a major hurricane during the next couple of days," said Daniel Brown, a hurricane specialist for the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

Bill was centered about 1,080 miles east of the Lesser Antilles at 11 a.m. EDT Monday and moving west-northwest at 22 mph. The five-day forecast shows the storm passing northeast of Puerto Rico and heading toward Bermuda.

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Meanwhile, Claudette made landfall in the Florida Panhandle Monday, less than 12 hours after forming over the gulf. The storm quickly lost steam after blowing ashore and was downgraded to a tropical depression Monday with top sustained winds near 35 mph.

Claudette was headed across Alabama toward northeastern Mississippi, bringing heavy rains. It was not expected to cause significant flooding or wind damage.

Near Panama City, a man in his mid-20s died after being pulled from the surf on Sunday afternoon. A Panama City Beach police dispatcher could not immediately provide more details Monday. The Panama City News Herald said another person was reported missing at sea after his boat sank off Shell Island.

Pensacola Beach condominiums had warned residents on Sunday to bring balcony furniture indoors. But after the storm passed farther east, early morning joggers and tourists seeking sea shells dotted the early morning sands.

Surf shop instructor Ben Martin pulled up on the beach in his pickup truck with surfboards in the back around 6:30 a.m. Official surf conditions were moderate, but Martin predicted a great day.

"We are going to get some pretty good surf because it's storm driving the offshore winds. Every surfer that owns a board is going to call in sick,"

Rainfall of 3 to 6 inches was expected, with isolated areas getting up to 10 inches along the Panhandle, the Big Bend region, central and southern Alabama and southwestern Georgia, forecasters said.

"We may see some heavy rains as a result, but we don't expect any high winds or coastal flooding," said John Dosh, manager of Emergency Management for Escambia County, where Pensacola is located. "This event is a good example of how quickly a tropical storm can develop. We won't always have a lot of warning. This is why citizens need to be prepared throughout hurricane season."

Far out in the Pacific, Hurricane Guillermo weakened to a tropical storm with maximum sustained winds near 70 mph. Guillermo was centered about 815 miles east of Hilo, Hawaii, and moving west-northwest near 15 mph.

Elsewhere, Tropical Depression Ana was moving quickly across the northeastern Caribbean Sea early Monday. It was expected to make reach the coast of the Dominican Republic later in the day.

Tropical storm watches for Antigua, Barbuda and Montserrat were discontinued. But watches remained in effect for Puerto Rico, the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, St. Maarten and several other islands in the area. Ana was forecast to bring 2 to 4 inches of rain.

Despite the storms, a warmer weather pattern called El Nino over the Pacific Ocean is generally expected to damper the formation of tropical storms in the Caribbean and Atlantic this year, said Brian Daly, a meteorologist with the national weather service in Mobile, Ala.

Forecasters revised their Atlantic hurricane season predictions after the first two months of the season passed without any named storms developing.

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