Ernesto now a hurricane

Posted on: 2:28 pm, August 7, 2012, by

Tropical Storm Ernesto

(CNN) — Ernesto strengthened into a hurricane Tuesday afternoon, as it churned toward Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, the National Hurricane Center said.

It is forecast to make landfall Tuesday night.

The Mexican government extended a hurricane warning to the island of Cozumel Tuesday as the storm advanced in the Caribbean.

Neighboring Belize issued a hurricane warning for its entire east coast.

In Nicaragua, government officials said they were evacuating about 1,500 people in coastal areas and had banned boats from setting sail.

As of 2 p.m. ET Tuesday, the storm was about 185 miles (295 kilometers) east of Chetumal, in Mexico, the National Hurricane Center reported. Ernesto was moving west-northwest at 14 mph with maximum sustained winds of 80 mph, making it a Category 1 hurricane.

Some additional strengthening is possible before it makes landfall, the center said.

The center of the storm was expected to pass north of the coast of Honduras during the day Tuesday before approaching the east coast of the Yucatan Peninsula by Tuesday night. It is then forecast to move across the peninsula into Wednesday and move out over the Bay of Campeche.

Between 3 and 5 inches of rain are expected along the northern coast of Honduras, the hurricane center said. Some mountains may see up to 8 inches.

Belize, the southern Yucatan Peninsula and northern Guatemala may get up to 12 inches of rain in some areas, which is likely to cause “dangerous flash floods and mud slides over higher terrain,” the center warned.

Areas of Honduras and the Yucatan Peninsula are under tropical storm warnings.

Ernesto will cause a surge when it reaches the coast, increasing water levels by as much as 2 to 4 feet above normal tide levels in the area near and north of where the storm makes landfall, the hurricane center said.

Meanwhile, Florence weakened to a post-tropical system.

No coastal watches or warnings were in effect for that storm, which was about 1,515 miles (2,440 kilometers) east of the northern Leeward Islands late Monday morning, the hurricane center said. It was moving west at about 15 mph.

Maximum sustained winds dipped to 35 mph, and further weakening is forecast in the coming days.

Journalist Samantha Lugo and CNN’s Sarah Dillingham contributed to this report.

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