Brewing: Tropical Storm Erika Forms in The Atlantic

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MIAMI, Florida (CNN) -- A disorganized Tropical Storm Erika churned in the Atlantic near the Leeward Islands, weakening in the early hours of Wednesday, the National Hurricane Center said.

Erika meandered overnight before starting to move generally westward at about 5 mph (7 kph), forecasters said. The storm is expected to gradually pick up speed over the next two days, while shifting its course to the north-northwest.

As of 5 a.m. ET, Erika was centered about 280 miles (455 km) east-southeast of the northern

Leeward Islands, the Hurricane Center said. Its maximum sustained winds were near 50 mph (55 kph), with higher gusts.

The storm, which formed Tuesday evening, briefly strengthened overnight before losing some of its steam.

"On the forecast track the center will pass near or over the northern Leeward Islands during

the next day or so," according to forecasters. Rainfall amounts were expected to total 2 to 4 inches, with isolated amounts up to 6 inches.

Tropical-storm force winds extended outward up to 120 miles (195 km) from Erika's center, but mainly to the northeast. Tracking maps put the storm east of the Bahamas by Sunday.

Tropical storm watches were in place for the Caribbean islands of St. Maarten, Antigua, Barbuda, St. Kitts, Nevis, Anguilla, St. Martin and St. Barthelemy, according to the hurricane center. A tropical storm watch means that tropical storm conditions, including winds of at least 39 mph, are possible within 36 hours.

The U.S. and British Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and other sections of the Leeward Islands have been advised to monitor Erika's progress.

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