Tropical storm Michelle is rapidly gaining strength in the western Caribbean. Meteorologists say the storm's current winds of 113 kilometers an hour could increase in coming days, possibly making Michelle a major hurricane. The storm is moving towards western Cuba.
To date, the 2001 Atlantic hurricane season has been rather quiet. Although 13 named storms have developed, few have become fully fledged hurricanes and none has developed into the catastrophic monsters to which the Caribbean region is accustomed.
But that could change in coming days. National Hurricane Center meteorologist Jaime Rhome says Michelle, which is centered southwest of the Cayman Islands, has the potential to strengthen into a major hurricane - possibly a category three or higher.
"That is a possibility. It is currently in a favorable environment and satellite images indicate that it is continuing to intensify," he says.
The warm waters in the western Caribbean also could help the storm intensify, combined with the fact that the storm is moving at an extremely slow pace, less then 10 kilometers an hour.
"Our forecast takes it towards the north-northwest, and then north for three days - approaching the western tip of Cuba by Sunday," says Mr. Rhome. "After that, it gets a little tricky, because it is forecast to take a turn towards the east."
A turn to the east would likely take Michelle over parts of the U.S. state of Florida.
The storm has already been blamed for significant flooding in Honduras. Three years ago, Central America was devastated by another late-season hurricane, Mitch, which left more than 8,000 people dead and caused more than $1 billion in damage.