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Tropical Storm Chantal races toward Caribbean

Tropical Storm Chantal, which could threaten the Carolinas, strengthened slightly Monday as it moved at breakneck speed toward the Caribbean islands.

Chantal packed top sustained winds of 45 mph and was pushing west at 25 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center. Tropical storm warnings are in effect for five smaller islands, and a tropical storm watch is posted for Puerto Rico.

Shortly before midday, the season’s third tropical storm was 550 miles east-southeast of Barbados, one of the islands that is under a warning. The others are Dominica, Martinique, St. Lucia and Guadeloupe.

Meteorologists say they expect Chantal to become a strong tropical storm, with top winds of 65 mph, by the time it reaches Hispaniola in a few days. Interactionswith mountains on that island and in Cuba are forecast to weaken the storm considerably. By the time Chantal emerges from Cuba on Friday – if it is still intact – hurricane specialists predict its winds will be down to 35 mph.

Should the storm survive its trek across the mountains, however, it will be off Florida’s southeast coast Saturday morning and in a position to threaten the Carolinas with rough seas and heavy rain late in the weekend or early next week.

The Air Force was expected to send a hurricane hunter plane into the storm Monday afternoon to get a better idea on its strength and possible future course.

Jeff Masters, a tropical weather specialist with the website Weather Underground, said Monday that if Chantal’s circulation is not destroyed by the mountains of Hispaniola and Cuba, it could be dragged into the southeast United States by high pressure that is forecast to build over the central Atlantic later this week.

Masters said some computer models indicate another tropical storm could form early next week in the eastern Atlantic.

Lyttle: 704-358-6107; Twitter: @slyttle
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