MIAMI -- A tropical depression in the Caribbean headed toward Florida on Saturday and was expected to become the first named storm of the 2006 Atlantic hurricane season.
The depression formed earlier in the day, nine days after the official start of the season, but the poorly organized system was not expected to become a hurricane, according to the National Hurricane Center.
The system, which had maximum sustained wind near 35 mph, would be named Alberto if it reaches the 39 mph threshold for a tropical storm.
At 4 p.m., the depression was centered in the Caribbean Sea about 50 miles west of Cabo San Antonio on the western tip of Cuba, forecasters said. It was moving north-northwest near 6 mph.
Over the next three days, the system is expected to move through the Yucatan Channel into the southeastern Gulf of Mexico, then toward Florida where it could make landfall Monday or Tuesday somewhere between South Florida and the western tip of the Panhandle, forecasters said.
The depression's outer rainbands stretched Saturday to the southern tip of Florida, and heavy rain was forecast over the state's Gulf Coast and the Florida Keys through Monday.
State officials pleaded with residents to update their hurricane preparedness plans but most shrugged at the news.
"The media overplays this, they get people very scared," said Tim Roberts, a Fort Lauderdale condo owner who was visiting Tallahassee. "Sure, when the time comes to be alarmed, yes, but don't make more out of it until it's time."
Scientists predict the 2006 season could produce up to 16 named storms, six of them major hurricanes.
Last year's hurricane season was the busiest and most destructive in recorded history. Hurricane Katrina alone devastated Louisiana and Mississippi and was blamed for more than 1,570 deaths in Louisiana alone.
Mike Martino lost his Navarre Beach home twice in the past two hurricane seasons -- first to Hurricane Ivan in 2004, and never got to move into a new home built on the same lot because Hurricane Dennis wiped it out in 2005. Instead of rebuilding again, he moved to the mainland.
The 2005 Atlantic hurricane season was the busiest in 154 years of storm tracking, with records set for the number of named storms (28) and hurricanes (15). Forecasters used up their list of 21 proper names and had to use the Greek alphabet to name storms for the first time.
Meteorologists have said the Atlantic is not as warm as it was at this time in 2005, meaning potential storms would have less of the energy needed to develop into hurricanes.
Atlantic hurricane seasons were relatively mild from the 1970s through 1994. Since then, all but two years have been above normal. Experts say the ocean is in the midst of a 20-year-cycle that will continue to bring strong storms.
From 1995 to 2005, the Atlantic season averaged 15 named storms, just over eight named hurricanes and four major hurricanes, according to the hurricane center. From 1971 to 1994, there were an average of 8.5 named storms, five hurricanes and just over one major hurricane. The Atlantic hurricane season ends Nov. 30.
Associated Press writers Kelli Kennedy in Hialeah and Andrea Fanta in Tallahassee contributed to this report.
On the Net:
National Hurricane Center: http://www.nhc.noaa.gov