Tropical Storm Cristobal likely to dodge U.S.

Tropical Storm Cristobal blossomed from a messy system trudging through the Caribbean early Sunday but is likely to dodge the U.S., the National Hurricane Center said.

Cristobal, the third named storm of the season, carried 50 mph winds with higher gusts that extended about 70 miles mostly to the east of its center. Forecasters warned the storm will continue strengthening, possibly becoming a hurricane in the next three to four days. It is expected to move over the central Bahamas on Monday.

The storm will likely turn away from Florida, forecasters said, although tracking the disorganized storm has proved tricky.

On Sunday, the 22nd anniversary of Hurricane Andrew, forecasters predicted the storm would continue to slow as it moves northward. Over the next three days, they expect Cristobal to slow even more and turn east, away from the coast.

Early tracks had pointed the storm away from the U.S. coast. But on Saturday, most tracks shifted the storm west, with some making the turn more gradual or not at all, threatening a U.S. landfall.

On Sunday, those models generally agreed, predicting the storm will continue steadily northward before turning to the northeast and heading offshore.

The messy storm has been packing heavy rain. Major flooding was reported Sunday in some islands of the Turks and Caicos, including Providenciales, the tourist capital and most populated island. Storm conditions prompted the cancellation of flights Sunday, and the closing of the Providenciales International Airport.

Forecasters warned Cristobal may dump up to eight inches in the Turks and Caicos and portions of the Bahamas and up to a foot in other areas, including Hispaniola, the island shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic. With its denuded countryside, Haiti is particularly vulnerable to deadly flooding and mudslides. In 2012, Isaac and Sandy killed 100 people when the hurricanes sideswiped the country.

Haitian authorities warned people living on the coast and in communities vulnerable to flooding and mudslides to stay on alert Sunday. Cristobal wasn't a direct threat to Haiti, the prime minister's office said in a statement, but the storm's rains and winds could be felt in some parts of the country Sunday and Monday.

A Hurricane Hunter plane sent to investigate the storm Sunday detected maximum winds at 45 mph as the storm moved trudged northeast of Long Island in the Bahamas. A tropical storm warning issued Saturday remains in effect for the central parts of the island chain.

Cristobal had been cruising quickly across the Atlantic, but slowed to about 3 mph Monday, a decrease in speed forecasters predicted as it passed Hispaniola and arrived in warm Bahamian waters.

The storm has already soaked the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, where it downed trees and left 17,000 people without power and nearly 6,000 without water.

Miami Herald staff reporter Jacqueline Charles contributed to this report.

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