The Atlantic Ocean hurricane season tied a 72-year record for the busiest ever as Tropical Storm Wilma formed today over the Caribbean and threatened to strengthen into a hurricane over the next few days.
The storm caused crude oil and natural gas prices to rise on the concern that Wilma could move into the Gulf and disrupt oil output that is already 67 percent below normal because of hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
Wilma is the 21st named storm of the season. The only other time since record-keeping began 154 years ago that as many named storms formed during one season was in 1933.
Wilma's center was located about 220 miles south-southeast of Grand Cayman at 11 a.m. EDT, according to a National Weather Service advisory. The storm was churning winds near 45 mph with higher gusts. Winds extended 70 miles from its center, the advisory said.
For now, Wilma is moving west towards Honduras, Belize and Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, but meteorologists say the storm is moving erratically and could easily veer off on other paths.
"Additional strengthening is forecast during the next 24 hours . . . and Wilma could become a hurricane by tomorrow," the National Weather Service said in its advisory. The advisory said the storm is expected to produce 4 to 6 inches of rain over the Cayman Islands and Jamaica with some areas being drenched with up to a foot of rain.
Crude oil for November delivery rose $1.14, or 1.8 percent, to $63.77 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Gasoline for November delivery surged 5.49 cents, or 3.1 percent, to $1.8035 a gallon in New York, the biggest gain since Sept. 28.
The hurricane season lasts until Nov. 30.