First tropical storm of Atlantic season forms off Florida

Residents are forced to abandon their vehicles as the first tropical storm of the Atlantic Hurricane Season hits Florida.

MIAMI - The first named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season formed on Tuesday off the coast of Florida, bringing heavy rains and strong winds to the southeastern US state and the Bahamas, forecasters said.

At 1500 GMT, Tropical Storm Arthur was located some 95 miles (155 kilometres) southeast of Cape Canaveral, the Miami-based National Hurricane Centre (NHC).

It was packing sustained winds of 40 miles an hour and was moving slowly to the northwest, closer to the coast, at two miles per hour.

A tropical storm watch - indicating storm conditions were likely within the next 24 to 36 hours - was in effect for the state's central-eastern coastline from Fort Pierce to Flagler Beach.

"The centre of the tropical cyclone is expected to remain just offshore and move east of the east-central coast of Florida" by Wednesday, the bulletin said, adding that Arthur was expected to strengthen.

Rain accumulations of one to three inches (2.5 to 7.6 centimetres) were predicted mainly in eastern Florida, while the northwestern Bahamas were due to get up to four inches of rain, the NHC said.

The Atlantic hurricane season started on June 1 and runs through November 30. The season is expected to be quieter than usual, the NHC has said, with between eight and 13 tropical storms, of which three to six could rise to hurricane strength.