BREAKING NEWS: Possible hurricane headed here

Would be called Ernesto

From Staff, Wire Reports

A possible hurricane

SHIPS model maximum sustained winds: 0hr:34mph, 24hr:44mph, 48hr:65mph, 72hr:81mph, 96hr:90mph, 120hr:100mph

Reports from a US Air Force reconnaissance plane indicate a tropical wave moving westward through the Windward Islands had developed yesterday afternoon and was expected to become a tropical depression or tropical storm Thursday evening.

Several computer models have the storm, which would be named Tropical Storm Ernesto, passing the vicinity of the Cayman Islands on Sunday or Monday, possibly at hurricane strength.

Forecasters were closely watching the tropical system that was approaching the outer rim of the Caribbean islands yesterday.

The system was beginning to deliver heavy squalls to the Windward Islands.

Long-range forecasts, subject to large margins of error, suggest that it could track into the Caribbean and then into the Gulf of Mexico, becoming an issue for surrounding land masses next week.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami said in a tropical weather outlook the wave was well-organized and heavy squalls were beginning to spread over the islands. The Windward Islands include Martinique, Saint Lucia, Barbados, Saint Vincent, The Grenadines, Grenada, and Trinidad and Tobago.

“Conditions appear to be favorable for a tropical depression or a tropical storm to form later today,” NHC said early Thursday.

All of the major weather models showed the wave entering the Caribbean Sea over the next day or so.

Four models put the storm in the waters south of Cuba near Jamaica within five days. Another model had the storm crossing the Dominican Republic before approaching the Bahamas over the next five days or so.

If the wave gets into the Gulf of Mexico, it could disrupt the U.S. oil and natural gas producing and refining facilities, damaged last year by hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Meanwhile, ”interests in the Windward Islands and the southeastern Caribbean Sea should monitor the progress of this system,” said forecaster Lixion Avila of the National Hurricane Center in West Miami-Dade County.

Much farther out to sea, Tropical Storm Debby remained a threat only to ships in the distant Atlantic Ocean.

At 11 a.m. EDT, Debby’s center was located near latitude 20.4 north and longitude 37.8 west or about 955 miles west-northwest of the Cape Verde Islands and 2,710 miles from South Florida.

Debby was moving toward the west-northwest at 20 mph and that general motion was expected to continue for the next day or so. Maximum sustained winds were 50 mph and slow strengthening was possible.

Debby was not expected to become a threat to anyone on land.

The NHC expects Debby to strengthen into the season’s first hurricane in about three days. If Debby becomes a hurricane, the center projected it would be a weak Category 1 hurricane. Category 1 hurricanes have wind speeds of 74 to 95 mph.

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