Tropical Storm Ernesto, the fifth named system of the Atlantic season, has begun passing through the Windward Islands on its way into the eastern Caribbean, the National Hurricane Center said.
Ernesto had top winds of 45 miles (75 kilometers) per hour, down from 50 mph earlier, the hurricane center said in an advisory at 8 a.m. New York time. The storm was 40 miles west-southwest of St. Lucia moving west at 24 mph. The government of Trinidad discontinued a tropical storm watch for Grenada.
“The center of Ernesto moved over or very near Saint Lucia during the past hour,” the center said. “On the forecast track, the center of Ernesto will move away from the Windward Islands and farther into the Caribbean Sea later this morning.”
The forecast shows the storm may grow into a hurricane late this weekend as it moves south and west of Jamaica, and Ernesto may approach Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula near Cancun in about five days.
It’s too early to say if the storm’s track will lead it into the Gulf of Mexico, which is home to 29 percent of oil production, 6.5 percent of U.S. natural-gas output and 40 percent of refining capacity, according to the U.S. Energy Department.
“The current thinking is it will be no more than tropical-storm strength through the weekend,” said Jim Rouiller, senior energy meteorologist at Planalytics Inc. in Berwyn, Pennsylvania.
Tropical-storm warnings, meaning winds of at least 39 mph, may arrive within 12 hours, are in effect for Dominica, St. Lucia, Martinique and Guadeloupe. Rain and high waves generated by the storm may affect the warning area for a day or two.
The hurricane center is also tracking a low pressure system 175 miles south of the Cape Verde Islands off the African coast that has a 30 percent chance of becoming a tropical system in the next two days, up from 10 percent earlier.
In addition, there is a 10 percent chance that a disorganized patch of thunderstorms between Florida and Bermuda may form into a storm within the next 48 hours, the center said.