Tropical Storm Ophelia, the 15th named storm of the 2011 Atlantic hurricane season, has formed out in the tropical Atlantic and is headed on a projected path towards the northern Leeward Islands by Sunday morning.
Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center (NHC) in Miami have tracked the storm since Friday afternoon when it emerged as a low pressure system in association with a tropical wave several hundred miles southeast of the Cape Verde Islands.
On Monday and Tuesday, the storm quickly became better organized.
The low over the Tropical Atlantic has finally coalesced about a single circulation center and has enough organized deep convection to be considered a tropical cyclone, NHC senior hurricane specialist Michael Brennan said on Tuesday evening.
According to the 5 a.m. EDT alert from the National Hurricane Center in Miami, Ophelia was moving west at 13 mph with maximum sustained winds of 45 mph. Tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 175 miles, mainly to the north of the storm center.
Ophelia, which is located about 1370 miles east of the Windward Islands, is expected to gradually strengthen over the next 24 hours as it spins toward the northern Leeward Islands.
As of Wednesday morning, Ophelia's projected path had it heading near or over Antigua and Barbuda by Sunday morning, continuing just north of Puerto Rico by Monday. It's still too soon to say what, if any, impact Ophelia will have on the East Coast of the United States.
At this time, there are no coastal watches or warnings in effect.
The storm is not expected to become a hurricane anytime soon. Ophelia will encounter an upper-level wind pattern in the coming days that does not favor significant strengthening. The NHC predicts that the system will remain a tropical storm though Monday.
Elsewhere in the Atlantic, a small area of low pressure located just east of the northern Leeward Islands continued to produce disorganized showers and thunderstorms. Although development of the system is not expected, the low could bring a brief period of heavy rainfall and gusty winds to portions of the northern Leeward Islands on Wednesday.
Ophelia is the 15th named storm of the 2011 Atlantic hurricane season, following Tropical Storm Nate which formed in the Bay of Campeche in the Gulf of Mexico earlier this month. It made landfall in Mexico, killing four people.
It's turning out to be the unusually busy year that forecasters had predicted. The revised outlook calls for 14 to 19 named storms, with seven of ten becoming hurricanes and three to five expected to become a major hurricane (Category 3 or higher).
The Atlantic hurricane season typically brings 11 or 12 named storms. Tropical Storm Ophelia is the 15th, and the season does not end until November 30.