Hurricane Jerry to strengthen as it nears Caribbean islands

Alex Sosnowski

Hurricane hunters investigating Jerry Thursday morning found evidence to suggest that the storm had strengthened into the fourth hurricane of the season in the Atlantic.

Jerry, the 10th named storm of the season, may continue to gain strength through the end of this week as it takes a heading just north of the Leeward Islands.

As of 11 a.m. EDT Thursday, Jerry was located about 490 miles east of the Leeward Islands, moving west-northwest at 16 mph and packing sustained winds of 75 mph.

Interests in the Leeward Islands should closely monitor the strength and path of Jerry.

The system rapidly organized on Tuesday into early Wednesday and transitioned from a tropical disturbance to a tropical depression to the 10th tropical storm of the Atlantic hurricane season in about 18 hours.

The tropical cyclone has the appearance of a well-organized, rapidly strengthening system. The storm has a tightly wound core with high-level clouds fanning outward from the center. Water is sufficiently warm over the region to support further growth.

There is a chance the tropical cyclone could intensify to Category 2 or 3 status into the end of this week before encountering increasing wind shear that could cause it to go through some weakening this weekend and early next week.

A close look of Jerry swirling to the east of the Leeward Islands early Thursday morning. (NOAA/GOES-EAST)

"At this time, we expect Jerry to continue on a west-northwest path which should take the core of the storm with hurricane-force sustained winds north of the Leewards, including the British and United States Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico spanning Friday and Saturday," Dan Kottlowski, AccuWeather's top hurricane expert, said.

However, any jog southward by 100 miles or more could bring hurricane conditions to parts of these islands.

At this time, interests from the Leeward Islands to Puerto Rico and Hispaniola should expect building seas with dangerous surf conditions into this weekend.

A couple of drenching squalls with tropical-storm-force gusts will likely pass through with Jerry tracking to the north. This scenario assumes that Jerry will grow in size and a plume of tropical moisture will develop south of the storm.

Should Jerry remain compact in size and no tropical moisture flows northward from the equator, conditions may just be sunny and breezy on the islands with rough surf and seas should Jerry steer north of the islands.

"We are still concerned that Jerry may take a slightly more westerly track for a time," Kottlowski said. "If that happens, Jerry could pass very close to the Leeward Islands and dangerous and damaging conditions could unfold."

Cruise and shipping interests should avoid the waters north of the Leeward Islands, Puerto Rico and Hispaniola late this week through this weekend for the likelihood of dangerous seas.

This weekend into early next week, there are some factors that are likely to influence the path of Jerry, including the strength of high pressure over the central Atlantic Ocean and how far south the jet stream dips on a couple of episodes.

If the high pressure weakens enough and the jet stream dips southward enough, then Jerry should take a curved path to the north and then the northeast, perhaps toward Bermuda. Such a path might allow the storm to avoid passing directly over the Bahamas and making landfall in the United States.

However, if the high remains strong and/or the jet stream fails to dip far enough south to scoop up Jerry, then the storm may continue on a west-northwest path or perhaps a more westerly course. This track could take Jerry across the Turks and Caicos and Bahamas early next week. Jerry could then approach Florida toward the middle of next week.