MIAMI 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 said.
Wet and windy conditions were already beginning to be felt in Jamaica by early Sunday afternoon as the outer rain bands of Ernesto reached the Caribbean island of fewer than 3 million people, according to Jamaica's emergency management office.
Ernesto's winds and rain threatened to dampen large street parties in the capital Kingston to watch the men's 100 meters track final at the Olympics Games where Jamaicans have huge medal hopes in the shape of world record holder Usain Bolt and his compatriots Yohan Blake and Asafa Powell.
Jamaican officials were also making contingency plans for a major outdoor gala on Sunday to mark the island's 50th anniversary of independence from Britain.
Tropical storm conditions were possible along the coast of Honduras by late Monday, the National Hurricane Center said. A tropical storm watch advisory was also issued for Grand Cayman.
Ernesto was following a predicted track that should keep it at sea until a forecast landfall, possibly at hurricane strength, over Mexico's Yucatan peninsula on Wednesday.
The storm was 205 miles south-south-west of Kingston, Jamaica, around 1:40 p.m. EDT on Sunday, moving west at about 23 mph with maximum sustained winds around 50 mph.
Heavy rains were expected throughout Sunday in Hispaniola and Puerto Rico. Three to 6 inches were expected in Jamaica and authorities warned of flooding in low-lying areas along the south coast. 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 Miami said.
Ernesto would be deemed a hurricane if its winds reach 74 mph.
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 Sunday, forecasters said Florence was about 680 miles west of the Cape Verde Islands.
With maximum sustained winds of 60 mph, Florence was the sixth named storm of the Atlantic-Caribbean hurricane season, moving west-northwest at 15 mph. Some strengthening was expected over the next day or two.
August and September are usually the most active months of the Atlantic-Caribbean hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to November 30.
(Additional reporting by David Adams; Editing by Jon Hemming, Vicki Allen, Jackie Frank and Cynthia Osterman)