Tropical storm Gonzalo strengthening to a hurricane, says forecast

Tropical storm Gonzalo is expected to become a hurricane by tonight or early Tuesday. The forecast track takes the storm over Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. But it isn't likely to hit Florida or the US east coast. 

National Hurricane Center
The forecast track of tropical storm Gonzalo as of Monday morning.

Tropical Storm Gonzalo swept through the eastern Caribbean on Monday, slowly gaining strength toward potential hurricane status on track to move over the U.S. Virgin Islands and parts of Puerto Rico. But the five-day forecast has the storm track headed out to sea, not toward the US East Coast. 

Heavy rain and strong winds buffeted Antigua, where the effects of Gonzalo were expected to be felt for several hours. The government ordered schools and businesses to close amid an island-wide power outage and opened four emergency shelters.

"It is strengthening very slowly," said Scott Stripling, a meteorologist tracking the storm from the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami. "It's not out of the question that we could see it become a hurricane later this evening or tonight."

The National Hurricane Center report says:

Although some mid-level dry air is noted to the west of the cyclone, low shear and warm water should favor strengthening during the next several days.  the NHC intensity forecast calls for steady intensification and Gonzalo is forecast to become a hurricane in 24 to 36 hours.

As of 8 a.m. EDT (1200 GMT), the center of Gonzalo was about 20 miles (35 kilometers) east of Antigua and 50 miles (75 kilometers) north of Guadeloupe. It had maximum sustained winds of 60 mph (95 kph) and was moving toward the west at 10 mph (17 kph).

Gonzalo is expected to produce up to 8 inches (20. centimeters) of rain across the Leeward Islands, the U.S. and British Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.

Stripling said the latest forecast puts it on track to take a northwesterly turn, passing over the Virgin Islands and the Puerto Rican islands of Vieques and Culebra.

Over the weekend, Tropical Storm Fay knocked out power to thousands in Bermuda before moving out over open ocean.

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