Tropical Storm Chantal strengthened as it moved into the eastern Caribbean Sea, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center.
Chantal’s top winds increased to 65 miles (105 kilometers) per hour, up from 50 mph earlier, the Miami-based hurricane center said in an advisory at 2 p.m. Chantal, 335 miles southeast of San Juan, Puerto Rico, was moving west-northwest at 29 mph.
“The center of Chantal will move away from the Lesser Antilles later today and continue over the eastern Caribbean Sea this afternoon and tonight,” Lixion Avila, a senior hurricane specialist at the center, said in the advisory. “Chantal is expected to be near or over the Dominican Republic on Wednesday.”
Chantal is forecast to intensify to near-hurricane strength before striking the southern coast of the Dominican Republic tomorrow. The country, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, has issued a hurricane watch from Barahona to Samana and a tropical storm warning for its entire coast.
Tropical-storm warnings have been issued for Martinique, Dominica, Guadeloupe, Puerto Rico and Haiti from Le Mole St. Nicholas eastward. Watches are in effect for from Le Mole St. Nicholas to the Dominican Republic border, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Vieques and Culebra, the Turks and Caicos islands and the southeastern Bahamas, the hurricane center said.
A storm warning means high winds, rain and waves will probably hit within 36 hours. A watch means those conditions are possible.
Winds of at least 39 mph extend 90 miles to the northeast from the center of the storm, according to the advisory. The storm’s strongest winds are confined to “a small area east of the center.”
Whether Chantal becomes a threat to Florida will depend on its survival over the 10,000-foot mountains on Hispaniola and the development of a high-pressure system to the north, said Paul Walker, a meteorologist with AccuWeather Inc. in State College, Pennsylvania. The mountains may disrupt Chantal’s structure and rob it of the moisture needed to maintain strength, he said.
“We have seen numerous storms come across there and get torn apart and others have held together,” Walker said.
The high-pressure system could either steer it toward Florida or let it pass out to sea after it moves through the Bahamas, Walker said. Forecasters should have a better idea by tomorrow or the next day if that will happen.
“That becomes the pivotal point as far as its future track,” he said.