Batten down the hatches. Tropical Storm Gonzalo is strengthening. At the 5 p.m. update, the National Hurricane Center upgraded the tropical storm warning in effect for the Virgin Islands to a tropical storm warning and hurricane watch.
The hurricane watch means hurricane conditions are possible within 48 hours. The tropical storm warning means the territory can expect at least a tropical storm within the next 36 to 48 hours.
“The trajectory shows the system as a category 1 hurricane when it passes over the Virgin Islands,” Carlos Anselmi, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in San Juan, said just after the 5 p.m. update.
Winds have strengthened to 45 mph, up from 40 mph at the 1:30 p.m. update. And the tropical storm force winds now extend outward 60 miles from the storm’s center, an increase from 45 miles.
The territory can expect four to eight inches of rain. St. Thomas and St. John are on a flash flood watch until Tuesday.
The storm is moving to the west at about 12 mph.
Gonzalo is expected to continue to strengthen as it nears the Virgin Islands. Anselmi said that it’s moving across “some hot water” and there isn’t much wind shear, making conditions right for Gonzalo to grow in intensity.
Anselmi still thinks Gonzalo will reach the Virgin Islands starting Monday night, with the center passing over St. Croix around midnight. St. Thomas and St. John will get the center at around 3 a.m. Tuesday.
As of the 5 p.m. update, Gonzalo was centered at 16.4 degrees north latitude and 59.5 degrees west longitude, which puts it about 400 miles east of the Virgin Islands.
In a Sunday press release the U.S. Coast Guard advised mariners, recreational boaters, swimmers, surfers and the general public to exercise good judgment and prepare for Gonzalo.
"Tropical Storm Gonzalo is developing quickly as it heads towards the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico," Capt. Robert Warren, Sector San Juan commander and captain of the Port San Juan said. "By noon Monday, swimmers and recreational boaters should avoid the ocean and the general public should stay away from shoreline rocks until the tropical storm passes and weather and surf conditions normalize throughout the area. We will continue to monitor the heavy winds and seas along the islands to ensure the safety of the ports in our area of responsibility."
The Coast Guard urged people not to go out to sea in a recreational boat if they know a tropical storm is approaching. They should take action now. The effects of a tropical storm can be felt well in advance of the storm itself and can prevent the safe completion of preparations. Do not try to reach your boat if it has been forced into the water and is surrounded by debris, the Coast Guard urged. Wait until authorities have made safe access available. Do not try to board a partially sunken boat; seek salvage assistance from a professional.