* Gaston remnant maintains high chance of redeveloping-NHC
* Caribbean’s Lesser Antilles alerted to potential storm
* Tropical depression forms in southwestern Gulf of Mexico (Adds tropical depression formed in southwestern Gulf, paragraphs 3-4)
MIAMI, Sept 5 (Reuters) - The remnants of Tropical Storm Gaston look very likely to strengthen again as a tropical cyclone in the Atlantic and could threaten the Caribbean’s Leeward Islands in coming days on a westward track, U.S. forecasters said on Sunday.
The National Hurricane Center gave Gaston, which weakened to a remnant low-pressure area on Thursday soon after becoming a tropical cyclone, an 80 percent chance of redeveloping over the next 48 hours.
An area of low pressure over the extreme southwestern Gulf of Mexico became a tropical depression on Sunday night with top sustained winds of 30 miles per hour (45 kph), the Miami-based hurricane center said. The depression could strengthen to a tropical storm on Monday as it moves northwestward inland.
The Mexican government issued a tropical storm warning for the Gulf coast from Tampico to the border with Texas.
If they become tropical storms, these systems could be the new focus of weather concern in a recent flurry of 2010 Atlantic hurricane season activity, which saw Hurricane Earl brush the U.S. East Coast last week before coming ashore in Canada on Saturday and fizzling out.
Canadian energy companies were checking their facilities and operations after Earl’s passage. [ID:nN05162873]
The U.S. hurricane center said the remnant low of Gaston was located about 700 miles (1,120 km) east of the Leeward Islands, battered by Earl last week.
“The low could redevelop into a tropical depression at any time today or tonight,” the hurricane center said.
It warned authorities in the Leeward Islands to monitor the system, but it was still too early to tell whether the Gaston remnant could eventually threaten the U.S. Gulf of Mexico, where major U.S. oil and gas production and refining operations are located, or also Florida.
Meteorologist Jeff Masters of private forecaster Weather Underground predicted Gaston would pass over or just to the northeast of the Lesser Antilles Islands early on Tuesday.
“Gaston may threaten Puerto Rico on Wednesday, the Dominican Republic on Thursday, and Haiti, Jamaica and/or the Turks and Caicos Islands by Friday, depending upon the storm’s interaction with a trough of low pressure expected to move off the U.S. East Coast later this week,” Masters wrote in a blog posted on Sunday.
Energy traders keep a close eye on potentially violent storms approaching the Gulf because it is home to about 30 percent of U.S. oil production, 11 percent of natural gas production and more than 43 percent of U.S. refinery capacity.
The hurricane season runs from June 1 through Nov. 30 and is currently in its peak period. (For the latest news on hurricanes clickhere; for links to the National Hurricane Center www.nhc.noaa.gov/; for weather models www.skeetobiteweather.com/)) (Reporting by Pascal Fletcher; Editing by Philip Barbara and Peter Cooney)
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