Tropical Storm Laura Moving Through Caribbean
Two systems formed Thursday at opposite ends of the Caribbean, with forecasters projecting potential tracks for both that could take them toward the United States, possibly as hurricanes.
Tropical Storm Laura continues moving across the northern Leeward Islands, with an uncertain path that could take the storm into the Gulf of Mexico, while still having some possible effect on Florida.
The storm is one of two systems that formed Thursday at opposite ends of the Caribbean, with forecasters projecting potential tracks for both that could take them toward the United States, possibly as hurricanes.
Laura strengthened Friday morning to become a tropical storm, while Tropical Depression 14 continues churning in the northwestern Caribbean Sea.
A Tropical Storm Warning is in effect for several islands at the eastern end of the Caribbean, including Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Antigua, and the northern coast of the Dominican Republic and Haiti.
A tropical storm watch is in effect for the southeastern Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands.
At 8:00 P.M. Friday, the center of Tropical Storm Laura was about 250 miles east-southeast of San Juan, Puerto Rico, and is moving toward the west at near 17 mph.
It’s expected to continue moving in a generally west-northwestward motion at a slightly faster forward speed over the next few days.
Maximum sustained winds are currently near 45 mph with higher gusts. Some slow strengthening is forecast during the next few days.
Tropical storm force winds extend outward up to 115 miles from the center.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center says, on the forecast track, the center of Laura will move near or over portions of the Leeward Islands tonight, near or over Puerto Rico Saturday morning, and near the northern coast of Hispaniola Saturday night and early Sunday.
There's still a chance it will affect Florida in some way early next week, said Florida Public Radio Emergency Network meteorologist Jeff Huffman.
“Let's remember, there is still time for this forecast to change - after all, the storm just became better organized (Friday),” said Huffman. “At the very least, there's a good chance tropical storm conditions could be experienced in the Florida Keys and possibly as far east as Miami by Monday morning.”
Huffman said that any possible impacts in Southwest Florida would most likely occur Monday afternoon and night, moving up the coast toward Tampa Monday night or early Tuesday.
Officials in the Florida Keys declared a local state of emergency, while Monroe County officials also issued a mandatory evacuation order Friday morning for anyone living in boats, mobile homes and in recreational vehicles and campers to evacuate ahead of the storm.
Tourists staying in hotels in the Keys should be aware of hazardous weather conditions and consider altering their plans starting on Sunday. The order also says that all recreational vehicles must be removed from the county by noon Sunday.
Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency Friday afternoon for 33 Florida counties, including the greater Tampa Bay region. Attorney General Ashley Moody also expanded Florida’s Price Gouging Hotline to handle reports of extreme price increases on essential commodities needed to prepare for the approaching storm.
Meanwhile, Tropical Depression 14 continues moving toward Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula.
At 8:00 P.M. Friday, the center of the depression was about 210 miles southeast of Cozumel, Mexico, and is moving toward the northwest at near 13 mph. A slower northwestward motion is expected over the next couple of days, followed by an increase in speed by Sunday and Monday.
Maximum sustained winds are currently near 35 mph with higher gusts.
But the depression is expected to strengthen to a tropical storm later tonight or early Saturday. It could be near hurricane strength when it’s expected to reach the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico late Saturday. It could continue strengthening as it moves over the central Gulf of Mexico toward the northwestern Gulf on Sunday and Monday.
The Associated Press and News Service of Florida contributed to this report.