Tropical Storm Florence forms east of the Lesser Antilles

MIAMI (AP) - Tropical Storm Florence formed in the open Atlantic earlier today, becoming the sixth named storm of the 2006 hurricane season.

The National Hurricane Center says Florence has top sustained winds near 40 miles-an-hour. That's barely what's required to be called a tropical storm.

It's expected to slowly intensify to hurricane strength by the weekend. Florence's winds extend 115 miles from its center but poses no immediate threat to land. Forecasters say it's still too early to tell if it will hit the US. It's about 900 miles east of the Lesser Antilles and moving west about 12 miles-an-hour.

The 2006 Atlantic hurricane season has not been as rough as initially feared. The National Hurricane Center lowered its Atlantic storms forecast in August to between 12 and 15 named storms and seven to nine hurricanes.

Forecaster William Gray downgraded his expectations for the season Friday to 13 named storms and five hurricanes, which would be a slightly below-average season.

(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)