* Ernesto expected to make landfall in Mexico
* May reach hurricane strength by mid-week
* Tropical Storm Florence forms in eastern Atlantic
By Michael Connor
MIAMI, Aug 5 Tropical Storm Ernesto kept on a
westerly course in the Caribbean Sea on Sunday, and was expected
to strengthen slowly over the next 48 hours, soaking Jamaica as
it passes the island on its way to the Yucatan, U.S. forecasters
Officials in Jamaica issued a tropical storm warning as
Ernesto moved in open waters at 22 miles per hour (35 kph) on a
predicted track that should keep it at sea until a forecast
landfall, possibly at hurricane strength, over Mexico's Yucatan
peninsula on Wednesday.
With maximum sustained winds of 60 mph (95 kph), Ernesto was
290 miles (470 km) southeast of Kingston, Jamaica early on
Overnight, the storm is expected to continue passing south
of Hispaniola, the mountainous island Haiti shares with the
Tropical storm conditions are to strike Jamaica on Sunday
afternoon as Ernesto passes south of the island. It is then
expected to strengthen slowly on Monday as it moves south of the
Cayman Islands, U.S. forecasters said.
Heavy rains were expected throughout Sunday in Hispaniola
and Puerto Rico. Three to 6 inches (7.6 to 15.2 cm) were
expected in Jamaica. Showers and thunderstorms - sometimes
severe - were possible on the islands of Aruba, Curacao and
Bonaire off Venezuela's northern coast.
"Ernesto is forecast to become a hurricane in the
northwestern Caribbean in a day or two," the U.S. forecasters in
The storm is not expected to strengthen significantly on
Sunday, and slow strengthening is forecast for Monday. Ernesto
is expected to move over the Yucatan peninsula in the next three
to five days.
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 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.
U.S. National Hurricane Center forecasters said another
tropical storm, called Florence, formed on Saturday in the
eastern Atlantic and was moving west in open waters. As of early
evening, forecasters said, Florence was about 600 miles (960 km)
west of the southernmost Cape Verde Islands.
With maximum sustained winds of 60 mph (95 kph), Florence
was the sixth named storm of the Atlantic-Caribbean hurricane
season, moving west at 15 mph (24 kph), and was expected to near
hurricane strength on Sunday.
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 Jon Hemming)