BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, CMC – Weather officials were Tuesday monitoring the passage of a weather system in the Atlantic Ocean which they said could develop into the season\’s next tropical depression.

According to the Miami-based National Hurricane Centre (NHC), the system is centred near 12 degrees north, 47 degrees west or about 725 miles east of the Windward Islands.

\”Although thunderstorm activity is minimal and upper-level winds are only marginally conducive for development this system still has some potential to become a tropical depression during the next day or so,\” NHC said.

Forecasters were also keeping a close eye on another system off the African coast which has a low level centre and is said to also have potential for further development.

Just last week, researchers at the Colorado State University slightly reduced the number of storms expected for the 2006 Atlantic hurricane season, but said they still expected a high degree of activity in August and September.

The new forecast is for 15 named storms, down from 17 in the earlier prediction; seven hurricanes, as opposed to the nine predicted earlier and three major hurricanes, down from five.

The forecaster said the reduced forecast was based on small changes in June-July atmospheric and oceanic fields that indicated conditions were less favourable for tropical cyclone development in the tropical Atlantic.

\”These changes include above-average tropical Atlantic sea level pressure, above average tropical Atlantic trade wind strength and a decreasing trend in tropical Atlantic sea surface temperatures,\” researcher Philip Klotzbach said.

\”We expect an active hurricane season for the Atlantic basin, but we do not forsee nearly as active a season as was experienced in 2004 and 2005,\” he said.