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Heads up, Florida: Tropical storm Erika is on its way, could become hurricane

Erika’s maximum sustained winds increased Wednesday morning to near 45 mph. While experts remain uncertain about its intensity, more 'slow strengthening' is expected over the next two days.

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Tropical storm Erika in the Atlantic Ocean northeast of Venezuela in this NASA handout satellite photo from Tuesday. Erika has triggered a tropical storm Watch for Montserrat, Antigua, Barbuda, St. Kitts and Nevis, Anguilla, Saba, and St. Eustatius and is expected to approach the Leeward Islands late on Wednesday.

NASA/Reuters

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By the time tropical storm Erika hits south Florida early Monday morning, it will have become a hurricane, according to the National Hurricane Center.

The Weather Channel reports that the storm is fast moving westward at 17 mph, and will reach Puerto Rico and the British Virgin Islands by Thursday. Rain may not be wholly unwelcome in these areas, as historic droughts have especially affected the islands this year.

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The National Hurricane Center on Wednesday morning raised its watch over the islands of St. Martin and St. Barthélemy to a warning, meaning that the storm could hit anytime within the next 36 hours. 

Tropical storm warnings have also been issued for the United States and the Leeward Islands, a set of territories lying east of Puerto Rico over which Erika will be centered Wednesday night.

Erika’s maximum sustained winds increased Wednesday morning to near 45 mph. While experts remain uncertain about its intensity, more “slow strengthening” is expected over the next two days. 

At last report, the storm was centered about 335 miles east of Antigua. 

Meanwhile in the Pacific, tropical storm Ignacio has gained some strength, with its maximum sustained winds increasing to nearly 60 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Ignacio is moving west at 9 mph and is also expected to strengthen to a hurricane by Thursday, though currently no coastal watches or warnings are hoisted.

The storm is centered about 1,500 miles east-southeast of Hilo, Hawaii, and will turn toward the west-northwest region on Thursday. 

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This report contains material from the Associated Press.