Associated Press Writer


Tropical Storm Ophelia strengthened Thursday off Florida's Atlantic coast, menacing one of the few spots spared serious damage from the six hurricanes that have hit the state in 13 months.

Moderate winds blew and spurts of rain hit the Jacksonville area Thursday morning, interspersed with brief moments of blue sky.

Ophelia, with sustained 60 mph winds, was stalled offshore about 60 miles east-northeast of Cape Canaveral, but forecasters said it was impossible to say what path the storm would take, or whether it would reach hurricane strength.

"We have to wait and see what (Ophelia) is going to do. The possibilities are endless," said Steve Letro, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Jacksonville.

"We are as ready as we can be," said Eric Fort, general manager of a Jacksonville Beach hotel, as he stocked up on canned goods. "People are concerned. All it takes is a look at New Orleans to understand the strength of Mother Nature."

Ophelia is the 15th named storm of the season. A tropical storm warning was posted for Florida's east coast from Cocoa Beach to Flagler Beach. A tropical storm watch was in effect from Flagler Beach north to Fernandina Beach.

According to the National Hurricane Center, the storm could bring high wind and rain across portions of central and northern Florida and southeastern Georgia over the next few days.

"This one is going to keep everybody on the edge of their seats for quite some time," Letro said.

Hurricane Dennis hit the Panhandle in July and Hurricane Katrina hit South Florida last month, killing 11 people before destroying parts of Louisiana and Mississippi four days later.

Two shelters were to open Thursday in Volusia County, which suffered damage in three of last year's hurricanes.

"We're just opening them in an extreme abundance of caution," county spokesman Dave Byron said.

Hurricanes Nate and Maria were churning elsewhere in the Atlantic, but neither was considered a threat to the United States.

Maria and Nate were the fifth and sixth hurricanes of the Atlantic season, which began June 1 and ends Nov. 30. Peak storm activity typically occurs from the end of August through mid-September.


On the Net:

National Hurricane Center: