Newly formed tropical depression could bring heavy rain to Puerto Rico

A tropical depression has formed just east of the Caribbean Sea, according to the National Hurricane Center. This depression could strengthen into a tropical storm and bring heavy rain and strong winds to the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Haiti this weekend into early next week.

As soon as Friday, it could bring turbulent conditions to the northern Leeward Islands, which mark the divide between the eastern Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean.

At 11 a.m. Wednesday, the depression was positioned about 800 miles east of the Leeward Islands, headed steadily westward at 14 mph. Tropical storm watches may soon be required for portions of the Leeward Islands, the Hurricane Center wrote.

With maximum sustained winds of 35 mph, the depression was just 4 mph shy of tropical storm intensity. The Hurricane Center projects it will attain tropical storm status by Wednesday night. Should that occur, the storm will earn the name Fiona.

Forecasters have been tracking the disturbance that became a depression for days. Previously, its thunderstorms were rather disorganized, but the Hurricane Center wrote that the system’s circulation was becoming “better defined” in its 11 a.m. update.

Although the depression is moving over warm waters favorable for additional development, the Hurricane Center said hostile high-altitude winds and dry air are “expected to prevent significant intensification.” Its forecast only calls for the depression to become a low-end tropical storm with peak winds of 45 mph before reaching the Leeward Islands.

The unfavorable winds are predicted to persist or even strengthen when the potential storm enters the Caribbean. The Hurricane Center noted some models “suggest that the system could struggle to maintain its closed circulation.” If the circulation unravels, it would no longer be considered a tropical storm.

If the storm survives its track through the eastern Caribbean, it may struggle to hold together when encountering the high terrain of the Dominican Republic early next week.

Irrespective of its exact strength, the potential storm is anticipated to produce very heavy rainfall along its path. Computer models show the potential for several inches of rain in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands and potentially double-digit totals in the mountains of the Dominican Republic. This could lead to flash flooding and mudslides.

The potential storm could well fall apart in the vicinity of Haiti. If it doesn’t, steering currents will probably direct it out to sea over the open Atlantic; however, there’s an outside chance it continues traveling westward toward the Gulf of Mexico.

The depression formed amid an otherwise very quiet Atlantic hurricane season. Through Sept. 14, overall activity is less than half the norm.

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