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Posted at 04:46 PM ET, 08/02/2012

Tropical storm Ernesto forms in the Atlantic

Satellite image of Ernesto as of 4:30 p.m. EDT (NOAA)
After more than a month hiatus, a tropical storm is alive and kicking in the Atlantic basin. The National Hurricane Center has upgraded tropical depression number 5 to tropical storm Ernesto as of late this afternoon. The storm’s maximum sustained winds are around 50 mph and gradual strengthening is forecast as it zips across the Windward islands into the Caribbean.

Tropical storm warnings are in effect for Barbados, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Dominica, St. Lucia, Martinique, and Guadelope. Gusty winds and several inches of rain are possible as Ernesto sweeps over these islands.

The storm is currently positioned 295 miles east of the Windward islands and is moving west at 22 mph.

Battling wind shear and dry air, the system looked as if it could fall apart this morning. But, despite a somewhat ragged satellite appearance, it has become marginally better organized today.

Conditions are forecast to allow slow intensification in the next couple of days. Once the storm makes some headway into the Caribbean, it’s not out of the question it could reach hurricane intensity by late in the weekend or early next week.

Track model forecasts for Ernesto (UCAR)
Track models are pretty consistent in steering the storm south of Puerto Rico, Hispaniola, and Cuba through the central Caribbean by Monday or Tuesday. Beyond that time, its course is less certain. The storm could run into the Yucatan Peninsula or take more of a northerly turn into the Gulf of Mexico where waters are very warm and threaten the U.S.

For its part, the U.S. is in a major hurricane drought. Climate Central’s Michael Lemonick reminded readers of this in his update on this system:

As of Thursday, the U.S. had not been struck by a major hurricane – Category 3 or above with sustained winds of 111 mph or greater -- in a record 2,475 days. The last major hurricane to make landfall in the U.S. was Hurricane Wilma in October 2005, which struck Southwest Florida.

There’s still plenty of time to watch this storm evolve. We’ll keep you updated on its progress.

By  |  04:46 PM ET, 08/02/2012

Categories:  Latest, Tropical Weather

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