Tropical Storm Fiona nears Caribbean, could become hurricane – Orlando Sentinel

Tropical Storm Fiona approached the Leeward Islands in the Caribbean on Friday evening with 50 mph winds, but the National Hurricane Center projects it to eventually become a hurricane that threatens the Bahamas next week.

As of the NHC’s 5 p.m. advisory, Fiona was located about 20 miles east-northeast of Guadeloupe with maximum sustained winds of 50 mph with higher gusts heading west at 15 mph. Its tropical-storm-force winds extend out 140 miles.

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The NHC issued a tropical storm warning for both Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands earlier Friday, as the system is expected to move just south of the islands on Saturday as it approaches a landfall likely on the southern coast of the Dominican Republic on Sunday just shy of hurricane strength.

“Assuming that recent satellite trends are a harbinger of possible strengthening, the NHC intensity forecast continues to show gradual intensification while Fiona moves across the far northeastern Caribbean Sea during the next 48 hours,” said NHC senior hurricane specialist Robbie Berg.

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The system’s updated path forecasts it to travel away from Florida, but also gaining hurricane strength by Wednesday as its center is amid the Turks and Caicos near the southern Bahamas.

Tropical storm warnings, which mean a threat within 36 hours, were also in place for the Caribbean islands of Antigua, Barbuda, St. Kitts, Nevis, Montserrat, Anguilla, Saba, St. Eustatius, St. Maarten, Guadeloupe, St. Barthelemy, St. Martin and the British Virgin Islands. Tropical storm watches were in place for Dominica and parts of the Dominican Republic.

The threat of heavy rains and possible flooding faces many of the islands with as much as 12 inches in Puerto Rico and 16 inches in the Dominican Republic possible.

Elsewhere in the Atlantic, a tropical wave was detected Thursday midway between the west coast of Africa and the Lesser Antilles islands. The weather system is producing disorganized showers and thunderstorms, and is predicted to slowly develop late this weekend and early next week when it turns northward over the central subtropical Atlantic. The NHC gives it a 20% of forming in the five days.

Also, the NHC is now monitoring a frontal low over the western Atlantic Ocean a few hundred miles west-northwest of Bermuda, which emerged Friday morning. The low is expected to move east to east-southeast at 10 to 15 mph while producing disorganized showers and thunderstorms. The system is expected to remain disorganized due to upper-level winds preventing it from developing into a tropical cyclone, the NHC said, only giving it a 10% chance of formation in the next two to five days.

The two systems’ recent emergence coincides with Colorado State University’s release of its tropical prediction for the next two weeks, saying the tropics could get much busier with a 50% chance of above-average activity taking place. CSU also gave a 40% chance of normal activity taking place and a 10% chance of below-average activity.

On Wednesday night, Fiona became a tropical storm when satellite data showed Tropical Depression 7 had strengthened, maintaining maximum sustained winds greater than 39 mph. It is not yet known if the tropical storm would impact Florida or the mainland United States.

Most projected storm paths show Fiona making a hard bend northeast away from the Sunshine State as it moves across Hispaniola early Monday where it could interact with the Hispaniola mountain range. The mountainous terrain is historically known to weaken tropical storm organization and tear up wind structures.

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The NHC, though, says once on the other side, it could pick up steam becoming the season’s third hurricane, currently projected to be Category 1 with 80 mph winds, but 100 mph gusts.

“Although Hispaniola’s terrain could cause some weakening … the amount of weakening will probably depend on how much of the wind field moves over the island or remains over the adjacent waters,” Berg said.

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