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Tropical system looms off Florida coast

Up to 15 inches of rain possible

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- About 120 miles of Florida's Atlantic coast were under a tropical storm warning yesterday as a new system formed offshore and threatened to dump up to 15 inches of rain in parts of the state.

The tropical depression could strengthen into Tropical Storm Ophelia by today, which prompted the warning from north of Jupiter to Titusville, according to the National Hurricane Center. It is expected to bring tropical storm conditions -- winds of at least 39 miles per hour -- to the state by this morning.

''The primary concern is very heavy rains," hurricane specialist Richard Pasch said. Five to 10 inches are expected over the next few days, with isolated areas possibly getting 15 inches.

The rain was expected to hit areas affected by Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne last year. Much of the region has recovered, but some homes remain covered in tarps as owners await new roofs.

Emergency management officials in St. Lucie and Indian River counties said they were monitoring the storm but were not taking any protective action.

''Right now, we're looking at this as a rain event," said Nathan McCollum, emergency management coordinator for Indian River County.

Two other storms were out in the open ocean yesterday as the busy hurricane season continued. Tropical Storm Nate was expected to strengthen south of Bermuda, while Hurricane Maria weakened on its way to the colder waters of the north Atlantic.

Nate, the 14th named storm of the season, was centered about 275 miles south-southwest of Bermuda with top sustained winds near 60 miles per hour. Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center said it could reach hurricane strength, with winds of at least 74 miles per hour, by today.

It was not moving yesterday, though it was expected to turn to the northeast, forecasters said. Winds of tropical storm strength stretched up to 70 miles from Nate's center.

''Perhaps by the end of the workweek it could be posing a threat to Bermuda, but not the US," hurricane specialist Stacy Stewart said.

Maria is the fifth hurricane of the Atlantic hurricane season. The season began June 1 and ends Nov. 30. Peak storm activity typically occurs from the end of August through mid-September.

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