HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — Tropical Storm Grace formed Saturday morning in the Atlantic Ocean and grew stronger, while Fred weakened into a tropical wave as it headed into the eastern Gulf of Mexico. Both systems were expected to bring heavy rain and flooding. Fred, which was once a tropical storm, could regain such strength on Sunday, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC).
The NHC said in its 11 a.m. EDT advisory that Grace was centered about 265 miles (425 kilometers) east-southeast of the Leeward Islands and could reach the Lesser Antilles by Saturday night. It was moving west at 23 mph (37 kph) with maximum sustained winds of 45 mph (75 kph), up from 40 mph (65 kph) earlier in the day.
A tropical storm warning was issued for the British Virgin Islands, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico. A tropical storm watch was in effect for the Dominican Republic, which forecasters said Grace could reach by Monday.
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Grace was forecast to bring 3 to 6 inches (7.5 to 15 centimeters) of rain to the Leeward Islands, Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico into Monday. The current forecast has Grace approaching South Florida as a tropical storm by midweek.
Meanwhile, Fred was downgraded to a tropical wave with maximum sustained winds of 35 mph (55 kph). Forecasters said the system appeared "disorganized", and projecting that it would pass west of the lower Florida Keys on Saturday afternoon and then move into the eastern Gulf of Mexico. Forecasters believe it will re-strengthen into a tropical storm as it moves toward the northern Gulf Coast.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has declared a state of emergency for the state's Panhandle region. Fred is expected to bring heavy rain to the Southeastern U.S. by Monday. It is not projected to reach hurricane strength.
A tropical storm warning that has been in effect for the Florida Keys has been canceled. Fred was centered Saturday morning 50 miles (80 kilometers) west of Havana and 125 miles (about 200 kilometers) southwest of Key West, and it was moving west-northwest at 12 mph (19 kph).
Once a tropical storm, Fred weakened to a depression by its spin over Haiti and the Dominican Republic, where it knocked out power to some 400,000 customers and caused flooding that forced officials to shut down part of the country's aqueduct system, interrupting water service for hundreds of thousands of people. Local officials reported hundreds of people were evacuated and some buildings were damaged.
Fred was expected to bring 3 to 5 inches (7.5 to 12.5 centimeters) of rain to the Keys and southern Florida through Monday. No evacuations are planned for tourists or residents in the Keys. The country's emergency management officials are advising people in campgrounds, recreational vehicles, travel trailers, live-aboard vessels, and mobile homes to seek shelter in a safe structure during the storm.
Governor Kay Ivey issued a statement Saturday saying her administration is monitoring the storm and "will be ready to act from the state level if needed."