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Tropical depression forms south of Jamaica

Associated Press

MIAMI (AP) – A tropical depression formed south of Jamaica on Monday and forecasters say it will likely strengthen into Tropical Storm Sandy later in the day.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami said the depression was about 320 miles (515 kilometers) south of Kingston, Jamaica, and had winds of 30 mph (48 kph). It is expected to drift westward before heading toward Jamaica on Tuesday night or early Wednesday.

The system could be near hurricane strength of 74 mph (64 kph) as it approaches Jamaica, forecasters said.

If Sandy forms, it would be the third year in a row that the Atlantic basin has had at least 18 named storms, a higher than average year of about 11. Despite the number, only two storms have made landfall this year as hurricanes: Ernesto struck Mexico in August and Isaac hit Louisiana later that month, both as Category 1 storms. Isaac killed seven people.

Robbie Berg, a hurricane specialist at the NHC, said it is unclear why there have been an above average number of storms during the last few years. He pointed out that of this year’s named storms, most were relatively weak and short-lived. Only one Atlantic storm reached Category 3 status _ Michael _ and it stayed well out to sea.

“We are not sure if there is any significance,” Berg said.

He compared this year to 2004 and 2005 when there were several storms that caused major damage, including Katrina.

The Atlantic storm season began June 1 and runs through Nov. 30.

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