3 storms in Caribbean, Atlantic head for U.S. coast

Three separate storms gathering over the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea are expected to hit the U.S. coast early this week, including Tropical Storm Claudette, which should make landfall overnight in the Florida Panhandle.

Three separate storms gathering over the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea are expected to hit the U.S. coast early this week, including Tropical Storm Claudette, which should make landfall overnight in the Florida Panhandle.

At 11 p.m. ET, Claudette was 40 kilometres west of Panama City, Fla., and about 110 kilometres east-southeast of Pensacola, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said in a public advisory.

It is expected to bring heavy rain with winds of at least 85 km/h to northwest Florida late Sunday but is not expected to cause significant flooding or wind damage.

Meanwhile, Tropical Depression Ana, with top sustained winds of 55 km/h, is expected to make landfall at the Leeward Islands early Monday, the centre said.

Tropical storm watches were posted for Puerto Rico, the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, Antigua, St. Maarten and several other islands in the area. Ana was forecast to bring as much as 10 centimetres of rain over the Leeward Islands.

Tropical Storm Bill was intensifying far from land in the open Atlantic, and is expected to become a hurricane on Monday, the centre said.

At 11 p.m. ET, the centre of the storm was about 2,120 kilometres east of the lesser Antilles, the centre said.

A warmer weather pattern called El Nino over the Pacific Ocean is generally expected to dull the formation of tropical storms in the Caribbean and Atlantic this year, said Brian Daly, a meteorologist with the national weather service in Mobile, Ala.

"It's pretty frequent that an El Nino year would be somewhat delayed with fewer storms," Daly said.

According to the David Suzuki Foundation, an El Nino event occurs when an enormous amount of warm water near Indonesia splashes across the Pacific to Peru, generating extreme weather worldwide. It also shifts the flow of air over North America, changing weather patterns across the continent, the foundation said. El Nino's effects in the Atlantic lag behind those in the Pacific by at least a year.

After the first two months of hurricane season passed without any named storms developing, forecasters revised their Atlantic hurricane season predictions.

With files from The Associated Press