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Tropical Storm Debby strengthens off coast

MIAMI — Forecasters on Sunday issued a tropical storm warning for Alabama’s Gulf Coast to the Florida Panhandle as Tropical Storm Debby gained strength.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami said Debby was about 170 miles southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River on Sunday night. It said the tropical storm warning has now been issued from the Mississippi-Alabama line eastward to the Florida Panhandle’s Ochlockonee River.

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The Miami forecasters added that Debby’s top sustained winds had risen from 50 to about 60 miles per hour. The storm was moving north at 2 miles per hour.

Although a forecast track was still uncertain, the hurricane center said people from Texas to Florida should remain alert to Debby’s movements.

Forecasters said Debby could be near hurricane strength by Monday night. The coast could get about 6 inches of rain, with up to 10 inches possible in some areas.

It is the first time four tropical storms have been recorded before July 1 during the Atlantic hurricane season since record keeping began in 1851.

Alberto was the first storm this year. It formed off the South Carolina coast on May 19, almost two weeks before the hurricane season officially began June 1.

Debby has forced the suspension of 8 percent of the region’s oil and gas production.

The reduced production is not expected to affect oil prices unless the storm strengthens and forces more production platforms to close.

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