Tropical Storm Chris runs out of steam
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- Tropical Storm Chris ran out of steam in the eastern Caribbean, losing so much strength Thursday that forecasters said it likely would weaken to a tropical depression by evening.
At 1 p.m., Chris had top maximum sustained winds of 40 mph, just 1 mph above the minimum to be a named storm and down from 65 mph Wednesday, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
The center of the storm was about 225 miles east-southeast of Grand Turk Island.
The third named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season was moving west-northwest near 12 mph and was expected to move away from Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands later Thursday, forecasters said.
"It's pretty much a skeleton at this point," hurricane specialist Jamie Rhome said. He said the thunderstorms that a tropical system needs to grow have been blown away by other winds in the atmosphere. Forecasters now think it isn't very likely that it will become a hurricane, but intensity predictions are tough to make.
"Some storms do make a comeback and some storms never ever come back," he said.
The hurricane center said the storm would likely bring 1 to 3 inches of rain to Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and the southeastern Bahamas. Parts of the Dominican Republic could see 5 inches of rain, enough to cause some flooding and mudslides.
The government of the Bahamas downgraded its hurricane watch to a tropical storm watch for the Turks and Caicos Islands and for the southeastern Bahamas, including the Acklins, Crooked Island, The Inaguas, Mayaguana and the Ragged Islands. A tropical storm watch for the north coast of the Dominican Republic was canceled Thursday.
Authorities in the Bahamas, an archipelago of 700 islands accustomed to stormy weather, had earlier urged people to stock up on water and canned food and to board up their windows as the storm approached.
In Staniel Cay, about 75 miles south of Nassau, the Bahamas' capital city, boat owners secured their vessels and tracked the storm's progress through the eastern Caribbean.
"We're just battening down the hatches and tying everything down," said Ernie Sullivan, a boat owner at the Staniel Cay Yacht Club. "You just can't say if this thing will pick up steam."
Some 600 tourists evacuated Culebra and Vieques, small islands off Puerto Rico's east coast, as the storm approached, and Royal Caribbean said it was altering the itineraries of three cruise ships to avoid the storm.
People in the islands of Antigua and St. Maarten awoke to a light rain.
In Anguilla, Chris brought heavy rain and strong winds overnight but the storm was much less severe than expected because it shifted to the north at the last minute, said Elizabeth Klute, director of the disaster management agency for the British Caribbean territory.
"It just kind of skirted us," Klute said. "It's moving on."
More than 200 miles overhead, the international space station's astronauts got a different view of the storm during a six-hour spacewalk and came to the same conclusion as meteorologists on the ground.
"Incredible. It's not as bad out there," said the European Space Agency's Thomas Reiter.
Last season was the worst for hurricanes in more than 150 years of records. A record number of tropical storms and hurricanes formed, including the devastating Hurricane Katrina.
Hurricane expert William Gray's team on Thursday revised its forecast for 2006, saying the season would likely bring seven hurricanes rather than nine, and only three of those would be intense rather than five. Another monster storm like Katrina isn't likely this year, the team said.