Tropical Storm Erika was hanging on to its tropical storm status as it stumbled through the northern Leeward Islands Thursday morning. But only just barely.
UPDATE: 4:50 p.m.: A weakening Erika has finally been downgraded to a tropical depression, and all tropical storm watches and warnings have been discontinued. While top winds have slowed to 35 mph, heavy rains are still forecast for the region. The earlier post follows:
The slow-moving storm's top sustained winds were still around 40 mph, but those winds extended far from the storm's hard-to-pinpoint center, by as much as 175 miles in the eastern quadrant.
So, Tropical Storm Warnings remained in effect for the northern Leewards, and were extended westward to the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico this morning. But the biggest threat from this storm for now will likely be heavy rain. Forecasters said Erika could drop 3 to 5 inches across the region, with as much as 8 inches in some places.
Erika's problem has been wind shear - high-level winds out of the southwest that are cutting off the storm's cloud tops and choking off its ability to spin up and grow. It's a factor that is especially pronounced in El Nino years like this one, and limits the number and strength of Atlantic storms. The storm also faces drier air ahead, and interference from island land masses in its path.
The storm's center Thursday morning was 200 miles east southeast of Puerto Rico, moving to the west northwest at about 8 mph.
In the meantime, forecasters at the National Hurricane Center have begun watching a new tropical wave that's coming off the coast of West Africa. This one looks pretty strong, but for now it is given less than a 30 percent chance of becoming a new tropical storm in the next 48 hours.