Tropical Storm Noel Forms in the Caribbean

Posted October 28, 2007 4:08 p.m. EDT
Updated October 29, 2007 12:33 a.m. EDT

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- Tropical Storm Noel got better organized and strengthened as it slowly moved toward Haiti on Saturday, but computer models showed little chance of the storm impacting Florida.

As of 11 p.m., the National Hurricane Center reported that Noel had sustained winds of 60 mph, with gusts of up to 70 mph. It was located 1,245 mi south-southeast of Wilmington and moving north-northwest at 5 mph.

The storm center was expected to be over or near southwestern Haiti by early Monday. Forecasters warned that the slow-moving system could send flash floods gushing down denuded hills in Haiti.

The forecast next takes Noel over southern Cuba, north to the Bahamas and then veering east and north out over the Atlantic.

There is little chance the storm will hit Florida or any other part of the United States. A cold front that might bring rain to North Carolina later in the week will push Noel out over the sea, WRAL meteorologist Kim Deaner said.

"Right now, it is a major rain-maker for parts of the Caribbean," Deaner said.

A small opportunity for intensification exists when Noel's center of circulation will pass over the open waters between Haiti and Cuba.

"Intensification models don't take it into a category 1 hurricane, but ... if it's able to stay together over Haiti, it's going to have the opportunity to intensify," Deaner said. By the time Noel gets over the Atlantic, it is expected to have weakened to a tropical depression in most models.

Noel poses a serious threat to Haiti, an impoverished nation that is still recovering from floods this month that killed at least 37 and sent more than 4,000 people to shelters. Noel could dump up to 20 inches of rain, according to the National Hurricane Center.

"These rains could case life-threatening flash flood and mudslides," the Center warned.

Flood concerns on Saturday forced three U.S. senators to cut short a trip to survey damage caused by those earlier storms.

"It was just raining like mad," Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa told The Associated Press before flying out of Port-au-Prince Saturday evening. Senators Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico and Tennessee's Bob Corker were also on the fact-finding trip.

Widespread deforestation and poor drainage mean even moderate rains can cause devastation in Haiti, where thousands build ramshackle homes in flood plains.

Flash flood warnings also were posted for Puerto Rico, while the Dominican Republic's national meteorological office warned residents to expect nearly 8 inches of rain and told ships to remain in port.

A tropical storm warning, which means tropical storm conditions could be experienced within 24 hours, was issued for the entire southwestern peninsula of Haiti and for the southwestern Dominican Republic. The governments of Cuba and Jamaica have issued storm watches, meaning tropical storm conditions are possible, generally within 36 hours.