Tropical Storm Ernesto poses threat to Jamaica, Cayman Islands

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Tropical Storm Ernesto could become the first hurricane of the 2006 Atlantic hurricane season -- at least according to what forecasters are predicting at the National Hurricane Center.

The storm, which began as a tropical wave near the Windward Islands in the Caribbean on Aug. 23 and moved up a notch to a tropical depression on Aug. 24, became the season's fifth named storm Aug. 25 as it moved toward Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, spinning off rain and thunderstorms as far south as Trinidad.

Rains were predicted for Puerto Rico and Hispaniola over the weekend.

Forecasters at the NHC said Ernesto could become a hurricane by morning on Aug. 28, but would not predict where or when it would make landfall.

Meanwhile, preparations were underway in both Jamaica and the Cayman Islands where officials urged residents to pay close attention to the storm's track.

Ernesto has sustained winds near 40 mph, far short of the hurricane threshold of 74 mph or higher, but additional strengthening is expected, according to the NHC.

Elsewhere, Tropical Storm Debby -- just barely holding onto tropical storm-strength with winds of 40 mph -- is expected to further weaken over the open Atlantic, posing only a threat to shipping lanes.

To contact reporter Gay Nagle Myers, send e-mail to [email protected].

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