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Tropical Storm Ernesto forms; projected to strengthen into hurricane

Quickly bulking up from a mushy depression, Tropical Storm Ernesto formed in the western Atlantic on Thursday afternoon and is forecast to grow into a hurricane by Monday.

Ernesto weakened slightly overnight but is expected to strengthen during the next two days.

At 5 a.m. Friday, Tropical Storm Ernesto, the fifth named storm of the 2012 season, was about 30 miles southeast of St. Lucia, moving west at a brisk 24 mph with sustained winds of 45 mph, a decrease of 5 mph from 11 p.m. Thursday.

Ernesto is projected to move across portions of the Windward Islands Friday morning.

It's unlikely that Ernesto will turn toward Florida, as a strong ridge of high pressure should keep the system on a more westerly track through the Caribbean and possibly into the Gulf of Mexico next week.

Because the wind shear that had been attacking the system has eased, it is projected to steadily strengthen, although for now it is not expected to exceed Category 1 hurricane status.

The government of Barbados has discontinue the tropical storm warning that was in effect for Barbado, St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Tropical storm warnings are in effect for: Dominica, St. Lucia, Martinique and Guadeloupe.

Grenada and its dependencies are under a tropical storm watch.

Under the latest projected path, the system would move south of Hispaniola on Saturday. From there, it is forecast to draw near Jamaica on Monday and south of Cuba on Tuesday.

Ernesto's tropical force winds extend 115 miles out from its center, mainly to the north and northeast, senior hurricane specialist Richard Pasch of the hurricane center said.





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