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Tropical Storm Gonzalo approaches the Caribbean, could strengthen into a hurricane

Hurricane season kicks off early
Hurricane season kicks off early 05:42

Tropical Storm Gonzalo is accelerating as it moves towards the southern Caribbean, the National Hurricane Center said Friday morning. Gonzalo formed on Wednesday in the central Atlantic Basin, and forecasts show there's a chance it could strengthen into a hurricane.

A hurricane watch is in effect for the islands of Barbados, St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Those islands plus St. Lucia are also under a tropical storm warning.

As of 11 a.m. Friday, Gonzalo had maximum sustained winds near 50 mph, with higher gusts, and was moving to the west at about 18 mph. The storm is forecast to reach the southern Lesser Antilles by Saturday.

Regardless of what happens next, Gonzalo is already one for the record books. It is the earliest 7th named system of any Atlantic season on record.

Meanwhile, in the eastern Pacific Ocean, a hurricane may threaten Hawaii by Saturday. Hurricane Douglas reached major hurricane strength — Category 3 — with winds of 130 mph as of late Thursday, located 1,250 miles east-southeast of Hilo, Hawaii. Douglas is forecast to weaken as it approaches Hawaii by later Saturday into Sunday morning. It may still be a hurricane or strong tropical storm when it reaches Hawaii.

It will likely pass just north of the Big Island and possibly make landfall Sunday as a hurricane or tropical storm on Maui. Watch for heavy rain, flash flooding and winds gusting over 75 mph. If it Douglas does make landfall as a hurricane, it would only be the third time in record-keeping history that Hawaii has seen a landfalling hurricane.

Yet another named system, Tropical Storm Hanna, formed late this week and is approaching the U.S. Gulf Coast. It is expected to strengthen and could become a hurricane before it makes landfall near Corpus Christi Saturday afternoon.

Five to 10 inches of rain is possible, with isolated maximum totals of 15 inches through Sunday night. Much of the rest of eastern Texas will experience bands of tropical downpours.

"The big threat here is rain and flash flooding," CBS News weather producer David Parkinson said. "Texas does need storms like this to prevent recurring droughts but that doesn't mean there won't be isolated pockets of bad flooding."

One reason for the active season so far has been unusually warm waters in the tropical Atlantic, and that seems to be continuing. Gonzalo marks the beginning of the second phase of hurricane season, which is called the Cape Verde season. This is when systems in the main development region, in between Africa and the Caribbean, flare up. It usually occurs in early to mid August, but this season it is starting several weeks early. This is partly due to near historic warm sea surface temperatures in the main development region.

Also, Gonzalo is forming very far south compared with most other tropical systems.

Its prospects beyond the weekend are very uncertain right now. But there is at least some chance it will remain a hurricane in the Caribbean and if so, this storm will need to be watched closely to see if it makes the turn north towards the U.S. or moves west into Central America.

After Gonzalo, computer models are showing another system with a good potential for development now emerging off of Africa. While its fate is uncertain, what does seem certain is that an active couple of weeks — and likely hurricane season as a whole — is now upon us. This is in line with all of the seasonal forecasts from various organizations warning it's likely to be one of the most active hurricane seasons on record in the Atlantic.

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