First tropical storm forms off Florida

A slow-moving swirl of rain and thunderstorms ambling south along the coast of Central Florida is the first tropical storm of the 2014 hurricane season, National Hurricane Center forecasters said.

Arthur is expected to miss South Florida, but could dump more rain on the area Tuesday before pivoting north Wednesday and then heading northeast on Thursday.

The National Hurricane Center said Tropical Storm Arthur has winds of 40 mph and is centered 95 miles east-southeast of Cape Canaveral. It is moving northwest at 2 mph.

A tropical-storm watch was in effect Tuesday morning from Fort Pierce to Flagler Beach.

The hurricane center sent a reconnaissance plane Monday afternoon that found the storm was well-defined but had not yet intensified into a tropical storm. It formed into a depression on Monday night and tropical storm watches went up on Florida's east coast.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecasters have predicted a slow storm season for this year, controlled in part by an El Niño weather pattern warming the Pacific Ocean. They expect just eight to 13 tropical storms. Three to six could become hurricanes, but no more than two are predicted to become “major” storms. No hurricanes have struck Florida in eight years.

Seeing a storm form along the U.S. coast this early in the season is not unusual, hurricane center spokesman Dennis Feltgen said, since the Atlantic waters are warm. As the season progresses, storms tend to form in the eastern Atlantic.

“This time last year, we’d already had two named storms, Andrea and Barry,” Feltgen said. “And Andrea was the only storm to make landfall [in the U.S.] all of last year, when it went into the Panhandle.”

Andrea formed in the Gulf of Mexico and took a direct path east, coming ashore in the Florida Panhandle before heading east and north along the coast. Barry, a tropical depression, formed off the coast of Nicaragua, then headed west to Mexico. In July, the east Atlantic churned up two more storms, Chantal and Dorian. But only Dorian threatened the U.S., making a beeline for Florida, which is hit more than any other state, before making a turn and falling apart off the coast of South Carolina.