Ernesto moves west in Caribbean; new storm forms in Atlantic
MIAMI Aug 4 (Reuters) - Tropical Storm Ernesto strengthened on Saturday and will soon bulk up into a hurricane while keeping a westerly course in the Caribbean Sea that may threaten Jamaica, U.S. forecasters said.
Officials in Jamaica issued a tropical storm watch for the island as Ernesto moved in open waters at 18 miles per hour (30 kph) on a track that should keep it at sea until a forecast landfall in Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula on Wednesday.
With maximum sustained winds of 60 mph (95 kmh), Ernesto early on Saturday was 305 miles (490 km) south/southwest of San Juan, Puerto Rico, and was expected to stay south of Jamaica, according to U.S. hurricane forecasters in Miami.
"Gradual strengthening is forecast during the next couple of days, and Ernesto is expected to become a hurricane on Sunday," the U.S. forecasters said.
Ernesto, which did no reported damage on Friday as it passed over the tiny island of Saint Lucia, would be deemed a hurricane if its winds reach or top 74 mph (119 kph).
Forecasters expect Ernesto to move into the southern Gulf of Mexico by Thursday, but it was too early to know whether it could disrupt oil and gas operations in the Gulf.
Separately, the U.S. National Hurricane Center forecasters said another tropical storm, called Florence, formed on Saturday in the open eastern Atlantic about 330 miles (530 km) west of the southernmost Cape Verde Islands.
With maximum sustained winds of 40 mph (65 kmh), Florence was the sixth named storm of the Atlantic-Caribbean hurricane season and was expected to track westerly before weakening next week.
August and September are usually the most active months of the Atlantic-Caribbean hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to Nov. 30. (Editing by Vicki Allen)
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