Posted June 9 2005, 7:05 AM EDT
MIAMI -- Arlene, the first tropical storm of the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season, picked up speed Thursday in the northwest Caribbean and edged closer to western Cuba, where a tropical storm watch was in effect.
With maximum sustained winds reaching 40 mph, the system became the first named storm of the season just before 7 a.m. Thursday, according to forecasters at the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
Tropical storms have top sustained winds of 39 mph to 74 mph.
The Cuban government issued a tropical storm watch for the western province of Pinar Del Rio and the Isle of Youth.
The storm is expected to move into the Gulf of Mexico over the weekend, forecasters said.
The storm was causing heavy rains and squalls across the Cayman Islands and western and central Cuba. Forecasters warned that very heavy rains in Nicaragua and Honduras could cause flash floods and mud slides.
At 5 a.m. EDT, the center of the storm was about 225 miles south-southeast of the western tip of Cuba. It was moving north at about 8 mph.
Last year, the first named storm of the season was Tropical Storm Alex, which formed Aug. 1. It later became a hurricane and came within 9 miles of the Outer Banks, N.C.
Within weeks, Florida was struck by Hurricane Charley, the first of four hurricanes to hit the state last season. It was followed by hurricanes Frances, Ivan and Jeanne. The four hurricanes damaged one out of every five homes in Florida.
The storms caused about 130 deaths in the U.S. and are blamed for a total $22 billion in damage.
Hurricane season began June 1 and ends Nov. 30