Tropical Storm Fred could hit U.S., forecasters say

Tropical Storm Fred was nearing the Dominican Republic early Wednesday, with forecasters warning that its heavy rains could cause dangerous flooding and mudslides — and saying it could have the U.S. on its target list.

After a quiet month without any named storms in the region, Fred became the sixth of the Atlantic hurricane season as expected late Tuesday. Tropical storm warnings were in effect for portions of the Dominican Republic.

The previous named Atlantic storm was Hurricane Elsa, but this time of summer usually marks the start of the peak of hurricane season.

On the forecast track, Fred’s center was expected to be near or over Hispaniola later Wednesday, move near the Turks and Caicos Islands and southeastern Bahamas on Thursday, then north of the northern coast of central Cuba on Friday, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said. Hispaniola is the island share by the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

It passed in the vicinity of Puerto Rico early Wednesday.

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Tropical Storm Fred’s position as of 4 a.m. EDT Wednesday., at Puerto Rico and heading for Hispaniola, the island shared by the Dominican Republic and Haiti. U.S. National Hurricane Center

CBS News weather producer David Parkinson said Fred’s most likely path takes it over the Florida Keys as a tropical storm on Saturday morning, though a landfall either south of Miami or in the Upper Keys can’t be ruled out.

If the storm takes that most likely path, it would then head into the Gulf of Mexico and intensify into either a stronger tropical storm or a weak Category 1 Hurricane, Parkinson said. Landfall would happen sometime between Sunday night and Monday midday on the Florida Panhandle, anywhere from Pensacola to the “Big Bend.”

“The only thing that will be remembered about this storm is how much rain it will bring,” Parkinson remarked. “Early projections show at least a half foot in the Keys and southwest Florida, and potentially 9 inches in the Panhandle.

As the storm moves inland, it could drop 6-plus inches in upstate South Carolina and western North Carolina. That part of North Carolina could see “devastating flash flooding,” Parkinson warned.

Rains pelted the northern Caribbean early Wednesday and power outages were reported in Puerto Rico, where Luma, the company in charge of the U.S. territory’s transmission and distribution system, warned those who depend on electricity for life-saving medical devices to activate emergency plans.

“Puerto Rico’s system … continues to be very fragile,” the company said, referring to a power grid that was razed by Hurricane Maria in September 2017.

“Do not wait until the last minute to mobilize,” said Nino Correa, Puerto Rico’s emergency management commissioner. “We don’t want to have fatalities.”