Tropical Storm Gonzalo is expected to strengthen into the first hurricane of the 2020 Atlantic season as early as Thursday, forecasters said.
The system, which became a tropical storm on Wednesday, was over the central Atlantic and moving west at 14 mph with maximum sustained winds of 65 mph at 11 a.m. on Thursday, according to the National Weather Service. Hurricane watches were issued for Barbados, St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
The storm is expected to move west to northwest and into the eastern Caribbean early next week.
Dennis Feltgen, a meteorologist and spokesman for the National Hurricane Center in Miami, said it was too early to speculate on the storm’s potential impact on the United States.
“It’s way too far out,’’ he said on Thursday. “Right now, our focus is on the Windward Islands.” The group of islands, including Saint Lucia and Grenada, are located in the southern Lesser Antilles in the Caribbean.
Mr. Feltgen described Gonzalo as a “very small storm” with “tropical force winds extending only 35 miles from the center.”
The National Hurricane Center was also monitoring an eighth system brewing in the Gulf of Mexico. The tropical depression, which has maximum sustained winds of 35 mph, was moving west and northwest at 9 mph toward Texas.
“It will likely strengthen, but this will be slow to occur at first,” Levin Cowan, a meteorologist with the hurricane research division of the Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory, said on Twitter on Thursday.
The system was expected to bring heavy rains to portions of Louisiana and South Texas this weekend. If it reaches maximum sustained winds of 39 mph, it will become tropical storm Hanna.
Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas urged residents “to remain vigilant and closely monitor weather conditions as a tropical disturbance in the Gulf is expected to impact parts of Texas this weekend.”
Gonzalo is the seventh named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from June 1 through Nov. 30. The first tropical storm was Arthur, which formed off the coast of Florida in May, followed by Bertha, which made landfall near Charleston, S.C., later that month. The systems made 2020 the sixth year in a row that a storm developed before the official start of the season.
“It’s forecast to be an active season and so far, that is definitely hitting the mark,’’ Mr. Feltgen said.
Emergency managers this year have been wary of what might happen if a major hurricane strikes during the coronavirus pandemic. Evacuation orders often put people in close contact with one another in shelters, which would make maintaining social distancing and other safety measures against the virus difficult to maintain.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted an above normal Atlantic hurricane season, with as many as 19 named storms — of which six to 10 could become hurricanes. And three to six of those could develop into Category 3, 4 or 5 hurricanes.
An average hurricane season usually produces 12 named storms, with six becoming hurricanes and three of those six developing into major hurricanes.
Mr. Feltgen noted that Gonzalo is the earliest named “G” storm since the satellite era began in 1966. The previous record was Gert on July 24 during the busy 2005 hurricane season.
The peak of the hurricane season runs from mid-August to late October, Mr. Feltgen said.