Tropical Storm Ernesto forms off Caribbean

Tropical Storm Ernesto as of 5:19 PM ET on Aug. 2, 2012 NOAA

(AP) MIAMI - Forecasters say Tropical Storm Ernesto has formed in the Atlantic and is speeding toward a chain of small, popular vacation islands in the Caribbean Sea.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami said Thursday afternoon that the storm is headed west at about 22 mph toward the Caribbean. Tropical storm warnings are in effect for the islands of Barbados, Dominica, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, Martinique, Guadeloupe and the Grenadines.

The storm's maximum sustained winds are rapidly gaining strength and were at 50 mph (80 kph).

Forecasters say the storm is expected to strengthen further. Its general track takes it toward Jamaica, though forecasters warn that the path of a tropical system can be unpredictable. Cuba and some countries in Central America also could be affected.

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