Hurricane Dennis bears down on U.S. Gulf Coast By Kimberly Scholz / July 08, 2005 Share 1 -- Facts and figures about the '05 hurricane seasonHurricane Dennis is one of the earliest named hurricanes on record, beating out Hurricane Anna by two weeks. Anna formed on July 20, 1961, according to the National Hurricane Center (NHC). An even earlier hurricane was observed March 7, 1908 (pre-names) and Hurricane Alma is the earliest hurricane to have hit the U.S. coast (northwest Florida) on June 9, 1966.Heres a recap of whats expected for this hurricane season, which officially stretches from June 1 through Nov. 30.Forecasters at the National Weather Service have predicted an active season, a forecast echoed by Dr. William Gray, noted hurricane expert at Colorado State University -- and the season is living up to that prediction already.Grays latest forecast, made just prior to the start of the season, called for 15 tropical storms and eight hurricanes, four of which are expected to be Category 3 or higher, with wind speeds of 111 mph or more.On the name front, so far this year weve seen Arlene, Bret, Cindy and Dennis. Still to come are Emily, Franklin, Gert, Harvey, Irene, Jose, Katrina, Lee, Maria, Nate, Ophelia, Philippe, Rita, Stan, Tammy, Vince, and Wilma.By comparison, the fourth named storm (Hurricane Danielle) didnt form until Aug. 13 in 2004. In fact, according to the NHC, 2005 is the first time the Atlantic hurricane season has had four named storms this early since record-keeping began in 1851. MIAMI -- Hurricane Dennis, a dangerous Category 3 storm with sustained winds of 115 mph, is bearing down on the U.S. Gulf Coast and is expected to make landfall somewhere between the Florida Panhandle and the Louisiana coast as early as July 10.Before making a direct hit on Cuba, the storm brushed the coasts of Haiti and Jamaica causing widespread power outages, downed trees and landslides.According to AP reports, the death toll in the Caribbean reached 15 from storm-related causes with 10 deaths in Cuba and five in Haiti.Once only six miles from becoming a Category 5 storm, the strongest rated hurricane, Dennis weakened from 150 mph to 125 mph and is forecast to weaken further as it continues to pass over Cuba, yet still remain a major storm.Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center (NHC) expect Dennis to remain at least a Category 3 storm, with winds of at least 111 mph, when it enters the Gulf of Mexico, and some strengthening could occur before it reaches the U.S. coast.According to a meteorologist at the NHC, the path the storm is now taking should keep it at least 75 miles to the west of the Florida Keys. However, hurricane-force winds and tropical storm-force winds still could reach the Keys as the storm passes July 9.With that in mind, about 45,000 tourists, mobile home residents and those living in the southern part of the lower Keys were told to evacuate on July 8 and the rest of the Keys were taking precautions to ensure the safety of their homes and businesses.As of the latest forecast, a hurricane warning was in effect for the lower Keys and a hurricane watch for the middle and upper Keys as well as the Panhandle from the Steinhatchee River in Florida to the Pearl River along the Mississippi-Louisiana border.Meanwhile, a tropical storm warning was issued in Florida for Anclote Key near Tampa Bay around the tip to Golden Beach in Miami-Dade County. A tropical storm watch was issued for Anclote Key north to Steinhatchee River.Heavy rains, storm surge flooding and large and dangerous battering waves can be expected in the areas affected by the watches and warnings. Isolated tornadoes also are a possibility.To contact TravelWeekly.com's Managing Editor Kimberly Scholz, send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.Tracking the intensity: The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane ScaleCategory 1 hurricane: Sustained winds of 74 to 95 mph. No real damage to building structures is seen with primary damage noticed on shrubbery and trees. Some flooding and minor pier damage may occur as well. Hurricanes Allison in 1995 and Danny in 1997 were Category 1 hurricanes at peak intensity.Category 2 hurricane: Sustained winds of 96 to 110 mph; storm surge is generally about six to eight feet above normal. Building structures could incur damage to roofs, doors and windows; considerable damage to shrubbery and trees as well. Hurricane Bonnie in 1998 was a Category 2 storm when it hit the North Carolina coast, while Hurricane Georges in 1998 was a Category 2 storm when it hit the Florida Keys and the Mississippi Gulf Coast.Category 3 hurricane: Sustained winds of 111 to 130 mph; storm surge is about nine to 12 feet above normal. Some structural damage to small residences and utility buildings is seen, as is damage to shrubbery and trees with foliage blown off trees and large trees blown down. Mobile homes and poorly constructed signs can be destroyed. Significant flooding (up to eight miles inland) can occur. Hurricanes Roxanne in 1995 and Fran in 1996 were Category 3 hurricanes at landfall on the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico and in North Carolina, respectively.Category 4 hurricane: Sustained winds of 131 to 155 mph; storm surge is about 13 to 18 feet above normal. Extensive damage to small residences; complete destruction of mobile homes; shrubs, trees and all signs are blown down. In addition, major flooding could occur and evacuations of residential areas as far inland as six miles could be required. Hurricane Luis in 1995 was a Category 4 hurricane while moving over the Leeward Islands. Hurricanes Felix and Opal in 1995 also reached Category 4 status at peak intensity.Category 5 hurricane: Sustained winds greater than 155 mph; storm surge is generally greater than 18 feet above normal. Damage can be complete roof and structure failure on many residences and industrial buildings; all shrubs, trees and signs blown down; complete destruction of mobile homes. Extensive flooding and evacuations may be required up to five to 10 miles inland. Hurricane Mitch in 1998 was a Category 5 hurricane at peak intensity over the western Caribbean. Hurricane Gilbert in 1988 was a Category 5 hurricane at peak intensity and is one of the strongest Atlantic tropical cyclones of record.