A late-season hurricane is intensifying in the western Caribbean. Hurricane Michelle is moving slowly towards western Cuba with winds topping 120 kilometers an hour.

National hurricane meteorologist Richard Knabb said hurricane Michelle has strengthened significantly since late Thursday, when it was upgraded from a tropical storm. "Michele is a minimal Category One hurricane [centered] south-southeast of the western top if Cuba," he explained. " We have hurricane watches up for the western half of Cuba, and we do ask the residents of the Florida Keys and southern Florida to monitor the progress of the storm very closely."

Mr. Knabb said Michelle is moving slowly at less than eight kilometers an hour, allowing the hurricane to suck up moisture and gain energy. He said that by Sunday, Michelle could become a major hurricane - defined as Category 3 or higher on a one-to-five scale. "We do forecast some intensification during the next 24-to-36 hours. The western Caribbean is a somewhat favorable location for tropical cyclone intensification this time of year. The waters are still fairly warm," Mr. Knabb said.

Forecasters say Michelle could reach south Florida early next week. The region is already waterlogged from heavy rains in recent months, and authorities say they are concerned about the possibility of massive flooding from Michelle's torrential rains. South Florida water management official Jose Fuentes said temporary pumps have been set up in canals and waterways to siphon off water in advance of the hurricane. "We know that, with a storm like this there could be a lot of water associated with it. However, these pre-draw downs do help the situation," he said. "It is very critical. That inch is the difference, maybe, between water being in your house and being in your yard."

Michelle is the 13th named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, which ends later this month.