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Ophelia looms off Florida coast

WAKEFIELD, Va. – Ophelia bears watching.

The 15th named storm of the Atlantic Hurricane season developed into a tropical storm on Wednesday as it meandered off the central coast of Florida.

National Weather Service officials in the Wakefield, Va. office said the entire east coast should keep a close eye on this storm, one already causing dangerous surf and rip currents from the southern North Carolina coast to Florida.

Winds from the storm increased to near 50 mph Wednesday morning as it sat approximately 85 miles east-northeast of Cape Canaveral, Fla.

NWS officials said Ophelia was drifting northwest at three mph. This general slow motion was expected to continue over the next few days. It is also expected to strengthen as it passes over the warm waters of the Gulf Stream.

Forecasters warn that Ophelia's track remains uncertain at the present time. Some computer models have the storm taking a more eastward track and out to the open waters of the Atlantic. Others show the storm moving slightly west, closer to the shoreline of the southeastern coast of the United States. One computer model forecasts the storm moving east, then looping back westward and striking the north Florida or south Georgia shoreline.

Whatever its direction, Ophelia has been added to a long list of storms for the 2005 season. It became the earliest named "O" storm since the National Hurricane Center began keeping track of such things back in 1953.