Update 5am: Ernesto remained a tropical storm early Saturday morning as it cruised toward the central Caribbean Sea, but it had intensified significantly since Friday.
As of 4am local time, Tropical Storm Ernesto had sustained winds of 60 miles per hour and was still moving due west at an 18 mile per hour clip.
Forecasters expected the storm to make a shift to the west-northwest at some point. The National Hurricane Center was also predicting the storm’s intensification to occur much earlier than previously forecast – becoming a hurricane within 36 hours.
The potential storm track was still a matter of debate, but most major forecast models agreed early Saturday that Ernesto would pass south of Grand Cayman sometime late Monday or early Tuesday as a Category 1 hurricane. The projected distance south of Cayman was anywhere from more than 200 miles away to as close as 30 miles, depending on the forecast model used.
Meanwhile, another tropical storm, Florence, formed up Saturday morning off the Atlantic coast of Africa. The weak storm with 40 mile per hour sustained winds was expected to head west-northwest and was not due to enter the Caribbean.
Update 5pm: Tropical Storm Ernesto continues to race westward at 21 mph across the Caribbean Sea.
At 5pm EDT, Ernesto was already 210 miles west of St. Lucia after passing over the island earlier Friday.
The storm has sustained winds of 50 mph with gusts up to 63 mph.
The forecast track from the National Hurricane Center shifted a bit farther south since its 11am EDT.
The latest track forecast carries the storm southwest of Grand Cayman with tropical storm force winds brushing the island. The closest point of approach is expected to be 123 miles at 11pm Monday night.
The core group of Cayman’s National Hazard Management Council will meet at around 4.30pm Sunday and at that time a decision will be made regarding whether or not government offices will open Monday.
The hurricane center noted that there is a large spread in the track between the various forecast models and that its official track was south of the model consensus.
Earlier story – A resilient Tropical Storm Ernesto passed over the island of St. Lucia with wind gusts up to 63 miles per hour this morning on its way into the Caribbean Sea.
Although the storm faced a hostile environment of moderately high wind shear over the past two days, it not only held together as a cyclone, it strengthened from Tropical Depression Five to Tropical Storm Ernesto on Thursday.
The National Hurricane Center in Miami stated at 11am EDT that Ernesto had a small but well-defined centre and was moving westward at a little more than 20 miles per hour. The storm had maximum sustained winds of 52 miles per hour, but the Hurricane Center did not expect much strengthening in the short term.
“Fast-moving tropical cyclones typically do not strengthen much,” it stated.
The storm is forecast to maintain a fast forward speed and stay on its current track for another two to three days. That is expected to change once Ernesto reaches the Western Caribbean.
“The steering flow in expected to weaken and Ernesto is forecast to slow down,” the National Hurricane Center stated. “The combination of low shear and high upper-ocean heat content in the Western Caribbean Sea would favour some intensification, and Ernesto is forecast to become a hurricane in the northwestern Caribbean Sea.”
The official National Hurricane Center track has Ernesto, at hurricane strength, passing about 100 miles or so south of Grand Cayman. However, the forecast models have a fairly wide track spread and several show the storm’s centre coming much closer to the Cayman Islands.
AccuWeather.com said Friday morning the storm could impact a variety of places.
“By the first part of next week, the system could have direct impacts anywhere in the vicinity from Honduras to Belize to the western tip of Cuba,” it stated.
Hazard Management Cayman Islands said Cayman Islands residents should prepare for Ernesto.
“Residents should have a week’s supply of non-perishable food and water, a portable radio, a flashlight, and extra batteries available at all times, but particularly during the hurricane season,” it said.
Ernesto will begin affecting Cayman’s weather on Monday. The Cayman Islands National Weather Service forecast thunder showers to begin Monday, along with east-northeast winds of 17 -23 mph and rough seas of four to six feet.