Aug. 28, 2004 As residents Saturday kept an eye on Hurricane Frances, the dangerous storm continued to track to the northwest.
Scott Stripling, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in San Juan, said forecasters expect it to pass about 200 miles due north of St. Thomas and St. John around noon on Tuesday.
He said Anegada in the British Virgin Islands should feel tropical storm force winds, and tropical storm force winds could come within 25 to 30 miles of St. Thomas and St. John's north coasts.
"A little deviation to the left, and you could see tropical storm force winds," Stripling said.
Forecasters repeatedly point out that hurricane predictions are not precise, and a little wobble makes a big difference in who gets wiped out.
Stripling said the government might post a tropical storm watch for the territory on Sunday morning.
Hurricane Francis became a Category 4 storm packing 135-mph winds at the 5 p.m. update on Saturday. Gusts reach 160 mph.
Forecasters think the storm may be a category 5 by Sunday. Winds in Category 5 storms exceed 156 mph.
At 5 p.m. Saturday, Hurricane Frances is centered at 17.9 degrees north latitude and 52.6 degrees west longitude. This puts it about 690 miles east of the northern Leeward Islands.
It is moving northwest at 9 mph. The pressure stands at 948 millibars or 27.98 inches.
Hurricane force winds extend out 35 miles, with tropical storm force winds reaching outward 115 miles.
Forecasters expect Hurricane Francis to turn to the west, northwest Saturday night or Sunday.
Stripling said that swells on St. Croix's northeast and east coasts should begin Sunday. "They'll be visible in St. Thomas and St. John," he said.
He said by Monday, the swells would become more northeast. He expects heavy surf and small craft advisories to be posted on Monday.
Stripling said the territory could also see some rain bands and squalls as the storm passes to north.
Rafe Boulon, chief of resources management at V.I. National Park, said that Hurricane Hole has been open for boaters since the first threat. However, since it is now only three days until the storm is expected to pass nearby, boaters may now stay aboard. He said they have to be off their boats within four days after the threat abates.
Because of the weekend, no one could be reached for comment at the Planning and Natural Resources Department to find out the status of their safe havens.
Kathy Demar, who manages vacation villas in St. John, said a guest due to arrive on Saturday called on Friday to find out whether he should come.
She said yes, but told him if it looks like Hurricane Francis will hit the territory, he'll have to fly out.
"He's only coming for five days, but at least he'd get in a couple of days," she said.
Meanwhile, Tropical Depression 7, which formed Friday off the South Carolina coast, became Tropical Storm Gaston at the 11 a.m. update on Saturday. Forecasters expect it to become a hurricane, as it gets closer to South Carolina. This storm poses no threat to the Virgin Islands.
Stripling said that V. I. residents should monitor the weather closely because conditions across the Atlantic are ripe for more storms to form.
"But it only takes one," he said, pointing out what V. I. hurricane veterans know so well.
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