Tropical Storm Ernesto expected to become a hurricane

Tuesday, August 7, 2012 - 9:00am

Tropical Storm Ernesto is expected to become a hurricane by Tuesday evening as it churns through the southern Caribbean toward the Yucatan Peninsula, forecasters said.

The Mexican and Belizean governments issued hurricane warnings Monday as the storm advanced.

In Nicaragua, government officials said they were evacuating about 1,500 people in coastal areas and had banned boats from setting sail.

As of early Tuesday, the storm was about 195 miles (315 kilometers) east-northeast of Isla Roatan in Honduras, the National Hurricane Center reported. Ernesto was moving west-northwest at 13 mph with maximum sustained winds of 65 mph. Its bands stretched 125 miles (205 kilometers) from the storm's center, the service said.

The center of the storm was expected to pass north of the coast of Honduras during the day Tuesday before approaching the east coast of the Yucatan Peninsula by Tuesday night. It is then forecast to move across the peninsula into Wednesday and move out over the Bay of Campeche.

Between 3 and 5 inches of rain are expected along the northern coast of Honduras, the hurricane center said. Some mountains may see up to eight inches.

Belize, the southern Yucatan Peninsula and northen Guatemala may get as many as 12 inches of rain in some areas, which are likely to cause "dangerous flash floods and mud slides over higher terrain," the center warned.

Belize issued a hurricane warning for its east coast. Areas of Honduras and the Yucatan Peninsula are under tropical storm warnings.

Ernesto will cause a surge when it reaches the coast, increasing water levels by as much as 2 to 4 feet above normal tide levels in the area near and north of where the storm makes landfall, the hurricane center said.

Meanwhile, Florence weakened to a post-tropical system.

No coastal watches or warnings were in effect for that storm, which was about 1,515 miles (2,440 kilometers) east of the northern Leeward Islands late Monday morning, the hurricane center said. It was moving west at about 15 mph.

Maximum sustained winds dipped to 35 mph, and further weakening is forecast in the coming days.

Journalist Samantha Lugo and CNN's Sarah Dillingham contributed to this report.

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