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Storm-in-waiting spins toward Gulf of Mexico

Wary forecasters at the National Hurricane Center issued a cautionary statement Wednesday about a suspicious area of disturbed weather about to sneak into the Gulf of Mexico.

Satellite photos show the disturbance beginning to spin in the characteristic cyclonic manner, said forecaster Stacy Stewart, but an aircraft did not find enough closed circulation at sea level to formally identify the disturbance as a tropical depression.

Nevertheless, the system could strengthen rapidly and slip into the gulf today or Friday. Squalls and heavy rains were already approaching western Cuba late Wednesday. Once in the gulf, forecasters said, the disturbance would find conditions ripe for strengthening and winds that could turn it toward Florida.

But it is possible, they said, that the system will remain a patch of rain and clouds and never reach tropical storm or hurricane status.

Meanwhile, in the Atlantic, Florence was downgraded to a tropical storm Wednesday, but may threaten Bermuda in the next few days as it moves east.

At 11 p.m. the center of Florence was near 30.2 degrees N latitude and 73.3 degrees W longitude, or about 525 miles west of Bermuda. Maximum sustained winds are still near 70 mph, and forecasters warned that Florence could regain strength as it moves.

Florence's departure to the east is expected to begin today with the arrival of a low-pressure trough moving through the South. Winds moving generally southwest-to-northeast around that trough will guide the storm away from the U.S. mainland, meteorologist Eric Blake said.

Those same winds will sweep through the Gulf of Mexico, he said, and could push a developing gulf system toward Florida.

Though far from the U.S. coast, Florence is being blamed in two deaths at Kure Beach, N.C.

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