Sept. 20 — Hurricane Jerry is expected to unleash heavy rains over the Leeward Islands Friday, causing several islands in the area to issue tropical storm watch warnings.Jerry continued to strengthen Thursday night after reaching hurricane status during the day, becoming the 10th named storm and the fourth recognized hurricane of 2019 Atlantic season.The storm’s growing power prompted parts of the Leeward Islands to issue tropical storm watches, with tropical storm conditions expected within 24-36 hours. Up to 6 inches of rain could fall in some areas. The watches are in effect for St. Maarten, St. Martin, St. Barthelemy and Saba and St. Eustatius.As of 5 a.m. Friday, the hurricane was about 290 miles east of the northern Leeward Islands and was packing maximum sustained winds of 105 mph as it moved west-northwest at 16 mph toward the cluster of islands that includes the U.S. Virgin Islands, the British Virgin Islands, Anguilla, Saint Kitts, Saint Martin, Antigua and Guadeloupe.

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The storm is expected to decrease in forward speed over the next few days. And while its center is forecast to track near the Leeward Islands Friday, it should pass well north of Puerto Rico on Saturday and be well east-northeast of the southeastern Bahamas on Sunday, the National Hurricane Center said.

“At this time, we expect Jerry to continue on a west-northwest path which should take the core of the storm with hurricane-force sustained winds north of the Leewards, including the British and United States Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico spanning Friday and Saturday,” Dan Kottlowski, AccuWeather’s top hurricane expert, said.

“We are still concerned that Jerry may take a slightly more westerly track for a time,” Kottlowski said. “If that happens, Jerry could pass very close to the Leeward Islands, and dangerous and damaging conditions could unfold.”

Jerry is expected to continue to strengthen rapidly as it did on Tuesday and Wednesday, due to sufficiently warm water to cultivate growth.

There is a chance the tropical cyclone could intensify to Category 3 status into the end of this week before encountering increasing wind shear that could cause it to weaken this weekend and early next week.

While the projected track of Jerry later in the weekend and next week is one that takes the system over the open waters of the western Atlantic, to the east of the United States, its progress will have to be monitored. Bermuda could also face some impacts from Jerry by the middle of next week, AccuWeather forecasters say.

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On Thursday morning, the NHC said a Hurricane Hunter aircraft sent to take a closer look and gather data determined the storm to be a hurricane.