BY CURTIS MORGAN
Fast-moving Tropical Storm Chantal is expected to sweep across a string of islands over the next few days and could bring nasty weather to South Florida by the weekend.
The southern third of the state is in Chantal’s forecast cone, but the National Hurricane Center expects the storm to weaken considerably by late Friday or Saturday when it could be over the Bahamas or South Florida.
The storm’s maximum winds increased to 50 mph on Tuesday and Chantal is expected to continue gaining strength to 65 mph over the next three days as it barrels through the Lesser Antilles and into the Caribbean. The forecast track takes it south of Puerto Rico and potentially across the island of Hispaniola on Wednesday and Thursday before it begins to slow and turn sharply to the northwest.
The storm’s speed — it was rocketing west-northwest at 26 mph — is expected to inhibit its development, said Dennis Feltgen, a spokesman for the hurricane center. As it slows and turns more toward South Florida, forecasters expect Chantal to lose much of its punch after crossing the mountains of Haiti. From there, it will also run into increasingly strong wind shear expected to knock it back to a 35 mph tropical depression.
“The trend is that there will be a continued weakening,’’ said Feltgen.
The storm’s swift pace also could reduce flooding damage to vulnerable countries like Haiti. Chantal was expected to bring two to four inches of rain to the Leeward and Windward Islands. It’s too soon to tell what impact the third named storm of the season could have on South Florida.