GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) - Tropical storm Harvey hit the coast of Central America on Saturday, lashing Belize with strong winds and rain and threatening to dump more on sugar- and coffee-producing areas in the region.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) said Harvey would probably weaken as it moved inland but could still strafe Honduras and Guatemala with storm-force winds and rain.
Hurricane forecasters were also closely watching a large tropical wave, located 250 miles east of the Caribbean’s Lesser Antilles, which was moving westward fast.
The NHC gave this second system a 90 percent chance of becoming a tropical cyclone in the next 48 hours and advised the Lesser Antilles, the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Haiti to monitor its progress closely.
Harvey made landfall in Belize near the town of Dangriga, some 35 miles south of Belize City.
“We’ve got heavy rain and strong winds,” said a spokesman for police in Dangriga. “But no damage.”
There had been no evacuations so far, he added.
With winds reaching 60 mph, the center of the storm was moving slowly west and is expected to hit northern Guatemala later on Saturday, the Miami-based NHC said.
Mudslides and flooding could affect agricultural output in Central America, but this year’s coffee and sugar harvests are largely over.
The NHC said Harvey could hit Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, and southeast Mexico with 3 to 6 inches of rain.
If the second system strengthens into a tropical storm, as expected, it will be called Irene and be the ninth named storm of what is already a busy 2011 Atlantic hurricane season.
Hurricane expert Jeff Masters of private forecaster Weather Underground wrote in his blog on Saturday that “all the ingredients seem to be in place” for a new tropical storm to form by Monday or Tuesday in the Northeast Caribbean.
Officials are concerned this system might also develop into the first hurricane of the 2011 Atlantic season.
Depending on its eventual path, this system could pose a threat to the United States or U.S. oil and gas installations in the Gulf of Mexico, but forecasters say it is too early to say for sure which way it will turn.
“Given the uncertainties, this weekend would be a good time to go over your hurricane preparedness if you live anywhere in the Caribbean, Bahamas, or Florida, since (it) could well be paying you a visit as a tropical storm or hurricane sometime in the next week,” Masters wrote in his blog.
Reporting by Pascal Fletcher in Miami, Dave Graham in Mexico City and Gustavo Palencia in Honduras; editing by Philip Barbara