(Reuters) - An area of low pressure located east of the Caribbean Sea has a 50 percent chance of becoming a tropical depression or storm in the next 48 hours, U.S. forecasters said on Thursday.
"For the five-day (forecast) that's raised up to a 70 percent probability," U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) meteorologist Dennis Feltgen said, referring to the weather system now about 350 miles (563 km) east of the Lesser Antilles islands.
A U.S. Air Force Reserve hurricane hunter is scheduled to fly through the area this afternoon to measure wind speeds and look for signs of circulation.
The NHC said the mountainous terrain of Hispaniola and eastern Cuba could limit development of the system during the first part of the weekend, but it expects conditions to favor development by early next week as the system approaches the Bahamas and Florida.
So far this year two hurricanes – Arthur and Bertha – have developed in the Atlantic. Arthur, a Category 2 storm, made landfall over North Carolina’s Outer Banks in early July. A tropical depression later that month did not develop into a storm.
Federal forecasters in early August downgraded their outlook for the 2014 Atlantic hurricane season, predicting "below normal" activity with seven to 12 named storms, no more than two of which are expected to reach major hurricane status.
A major hurricane is considered to be Category 3 or above with winds hitting at least 111 miles per hour (178 km per hour).
That revised forecast predicts a 70 percent chance of a below-normal season, compared to the 50 percent odds issued by the forecasters in May.
A typical season has 12 named storms, with six hurricanes and three hurricanes reaching major Category 3 status. The six month-long hurricane season runs from June 1 to Nov. 30.
In its August outlook), the agency cited the strengthening of climate conditions that are not favorable to hurricane development, including cooler than average temperatures in the tropical Atlantic Ocean.
(Reporting by Zachary Fagenson in Miami and Kevin Jose in Bangalore; Editing by David Adams, Jeffrey Benkoe and Susan Heavey)