Well ahead of previous forecasts, Tropical Storm Irene formed Saturday evening in the Atlantic Ocean just east of the Leeward Islands. Warnings were issued for Puerto Rico, the U.S. and British Virgin Islands and other islands in the eastern Caribbean.
The fast-moving storm had already moved over the Leeward Islands by early Sunday morning and was threatening to turn into a weak hurricane by Monday morning, forecasters said.
By Sunday morning, Irene was over the Leeward Islands and was moving due west at a brisk 21 miles per hour. Maximum sustained winds within the storm were about 50 miles per hour.
In addition to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, tropical storm warnings have been issued for Vieques, Culebra, Saba, St. Eustatius, St. Maartin, Dominica, Barbuda, St. Kitts, Nevis, Antigua, Anguilla and Montserrat.
Forecasters said Irene would pass through the Leeward Islands early Sunday and move into the northeastern Caribbean Sea on Sunday. It is expected to bring tropical storm conditions including 4 to 7 inches of rain Sunday afternoon to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Hurricane conditions are possible over the Dominican Republic by late Monday.
Forecast models did not agree on which direction Irene would take. The majority of the forecasts had the storm taking a more northerly track, heading over Hispaniola and into the Bahamas by Tuesday.
However, two credible models showed the storm staying on a more westerly track, moving to the south of Cuba and floating just north of Cayman Brac later in the week.
The remnants of Tropical Storm Harvey, a tropical depression on Sunday, moved further inland into Mexico and were weakening substantially.
The storm struck Belize earlier Saturday afternoon and never managed to gain hurricane strength. It brought heavy flooding to Belize and its southern neighbour Honduras before moving into southern Mexico.