Erika on target to land in Leeward Islands tonight

Projected path of Erika as of 11 a.m. Wednesday.
Projected path of Erika as of 11 a.m. Wednesday. Miami

Tropical Storm Erika continued its race toward the Leeward Islands Wednesday, with South Florida sitting squarely within the weekend forecast cone.

If Erika continues on its current track, Miami-Dade County emergency managers say they are bracing for tropical storm force winds as early as Sunday. At 2 p.m., Erika had sustained winds of 45 mph, with tropical storm force winds extending 105 miles. The storm had slowed slightly to 17 mph and was located 245 miles east of Antigua.

“What we’re telling people now is if you have a plan, good. Stay informed. If you don’t have a plan, you shouldn’t be wasting any time,” said Curtis Sommerhoff, director of Miami-Dade County’s Office of Emergency Management.

Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center expect little change in the storm’s strength over the next three days as it continues moving to the west, northwest. But by day four, Erika could strengthen and by Monday become a Category 1 hurricane.

Once past the Leeward Islands today, Erika is forecast to near the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico on Thursday and reach the Dominican Republic Friday.

There is still a chance that Erika could weaken as it passes over land and encounters dry air. And while the five-day forecast cone stretches over South Florida, forecasters warned that the predictions are less precise the further they reach into the future. Over the last five years, they said, the margin of error at day four has been about 180 miles. That margin grows to about 240 miles at day five.

On Thursday afternoon, tropical storm warnings were in effect for Anguilla, Saba, St. Eustatius, St. Maarten, St. Martin, St. Barthelemy, Montserrat, Antigua, Barbuda, St. Kitts, Nevis, Puerto Rico, Vieques, Culebra, U.S. Virgin Islands and the British Virgin Islands. A warning means tropical storm force winds may be felt in about 36 hours. A hurricane hunter plane was on its way to investigate the storm.

Related stories from Miami Herald