Aug. 16, 2007 — Tropical Storm Dean grew into the first hurricane of the season Thursday, but it's starting to look like the Virgin Islands won't get the brunt of the storm.
As things now stand, Dean is expected to pass about 120 to 150 miles south of St. Croix sometime Saturday morning as a Category 2 hurricane.
"But there's a three-day margin of error that could still permit it to come closer," Roham Abtahi, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in San Juan said late Wednesday.
He urged residents to remain on guard in case the storm veers closer to the Virgin Islands.
At 5 a.m. EDT, Dean was centered about 485 miles east of Barbados and about 590 miles east of Martinique, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami. It was moving west near 24 mph, and was expected to continue the same path for the next 24 hours.
Top winds were near 75 mph, just above the threshold for a hurricane. Dean is a Category 1 hurricane and should strengthen further, forecasters said.
While it appears the Virgin Islands will be spared a hit, Abtahi said that won't be the case for islands from Antigua southward to Grenada. According to the latest predicted path from the National Hurricane Center in Miami, Dean is taking dead aim on Guadeloupe and St. Lucia, but a slight change in direction could impact another nearby island. The storm is expected to hit the area as a Category 1 hurricane Friday, with winds between 74 and 95 mph.
Meanwhile, residents across the territory are keeping a watchful eye.
"We're in a wait-and-see mode," Rik Blyth, president of the V.I. Hotel and Tourism Association, said. He said that hoteliers have their hurricane preparation teams all set to go and have walked through their hurricane plans.
Blyth said that the hotels take their lead from the airlines. As long as they're flying in, it's safe for guests to keep arriving.
He said that hotels usually post a chart in the lobby that tracks the storm's progress.
Calls to supermarkets turned up a mixed bag of results. Some said it was business as usual, but others said they had lots of shoppers who looked like they were stocking up.
"We've been selling a lot of water," Yousef Ali, manager at Foodtown on St. Croix, said.
Hurricane season runs through Nov. 30, with the peak coming around mid-September.
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