Tropical Storm Erika Could Reach Florida by Monday

A “Hurricane Hunter” airplane has found that Tropical Storm Erika strengthened slightly as it approached the Leeward Islands in the Caribbean Sea, where warnings and watches have been posted, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

Erika was about 335 miles (539 kilometers) east of Antigua with winds of 45 miles per hour, up from 40 mph earlier, the center said in an advisory at 8 a.m. New York time Wednesday. Tropical storm warnings and watches have been posted throughout the Leeward Islands, which include Montserrat, Antigua and Barbuda. The alerts also stretch to Puerto Rico.

“On the forecast track, the center of Erika will move near or over portions of the Leeward Islands tonight and move near the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico on Thursday,” the center said.

The Miami-based center’s long-range track shows Erika reaching Florida by Monday as a Category 1 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale. It would be the first time a storm of that strength reached the state since 2005. Florida has been hit by several tropical storms in the past 10 years.

More immediately, Erika may drop 2 to 4 inches (5 to 10 centimeters) of rain across the Leeward Islands, Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico through Friday. Some areas may get as much as 8 inches from the storm.