Predictions of a busy hurricane season appear to be on track as the development of the fourth tropical storm for 2005 set a record.
Never in recorded history have four tropical storms formed in the Atlantic Basin so early in the hurricane season.
Today at 11 a.m. ET, the National Hurricane Center said a depression near the Dominican Republic had developed into tropical storm Dennis. It could hit Florida on Friday.
Dennis joins Cindy, the third tropical storm of this young season, to create a potential one-two punch for the U.S. coast. Cindy is already causing rain in Louisiana.
"July 5 is the earliest date on record for four named storms to have formed in the Atlantic Basin," said National Hurricane Center forecaster Richard Pasch.
Hurricane season runs from June 1 to Nov. 30 in the Atlantic Basin, which includes the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean.
The season started out quickly when Arlene formed on June 8. In some years, no tropical storms even develop in June. The busiest months are August and September.
Hurricane experts predict 12 to 15 tropical storms will form in the Atlantic Basin this year. Of those, three to five could become major hurricanes with sustained winds of 111 mph or stronger.
Dennis reached tropical storm status when its sustained winds climbed to 40 mph. It is expected to strengthen in coming days and could be a hurricane by the time it reaches Florida. Weather forecasters stress, however, that a storm's intensity and path cannot be accurately predicted so far in advance.
Cindy is in the Gulf and also became a named storm early today. It is expected to come ashore tonight or tomorrow but is not forecast to reach hurricane status.
The busy 2005 season comes on the heels of one of the worst hurricane seasons on record, when in 2004 four storms battered Florida. Scientists say the back-to-back active years are part of a developing long-term trend that will likely continue for the next several seasons.