Tropical Storm Bertha emerged from the warm waters off Africa on Friday and began the westward trek that could send it into the eastern Caribbean at full hurricane strength by early next week.
On Friday evening, though, it remained a modest storm, with peak winds of about 40 miles per hour. Satellite photos at 5 p.m. placed Bertha about 1,180 miles - several days - east of the Lesser Antilles. It was traveling west-northwest at 21 miles per hour.
However, Jerry Jarrell, deputy director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami, said conditions seemed favorable for the storm to build to hurricane strength over the next few days.
“The ocean temperatures out there appear warm enough and the atmosphere seems right for this to become a hurricane, maybe by Monday morning,” Jarrell said.
Bertha is a bit of a surprise to hurricane forecasters because it arrived so early for an African storm, Jarrell said. Normally the first storms drift off the west coast of Africa in late July or August.
“I don’t think we’ve ever had one from that far east this early,” he said. “If this isn’t a record, it’s at least close to a record.”
And it’s these African storms that pose the greatest threat to the U.S. East Coast. Storms that form farther west are almost past the East Coast at birth, Jarrell said.
“These storms (from Africa) have an easier track to the East Coast,” he said.