Tropical Storm Richard formed over the Caribbean Sea on Thursday and could become a hurricane by the weekend on a forecast track taking it into the Gulf of Mexico next week, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.
Richard, seen heading in the next few days toward Belize and Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, was the 17th named storm of the busy 2010 Atlantic hurricane season.
The season has seen nine hurricanes to date, five of them major, but the United States has escaped a significant landfall so far.
In its five-day track forecast, the Miami-based hurricane center saw Richard entering the southwestern Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday after crossing the Yucatan peninsula.
This raised the possibility the storm might eventually threaten the concentration of U.S. oil and gas installations in the northern Gulf of Mexico and the U.S. Gulf Coast.
At 5 p.m. ET, Richard was located about 235 miles south-southeast of Grand Cayman in the Cayman islands, and about 200 miles northeast of Cabo Gracias a Dios on the Nicaragua-Honduras border.
It packed top sustained winds of 40 miles per hour.
The storm was moving southeast, but prevailing weather conditions were expected to turn it back around to the west in the coming days on a path taking it toward Central America and the Yucatan peninsula.
The Honduran government issued a tropical storm watch on Thursday afternoon for the coast of Honduras, from the Nicaraguan border westward to Limon. The warning means tropical storm conditions are possible in the watch area within about 48 hours.
The storm was expected to initially produce heavy rains over Jamaica, which could trigger life-threatening flash floods and mudslides, the U.S. hurricane center said.
Richard could dump 4 to 8 inches of rain on Jamaica with possible isolated amounts of 12 inches.
The very active 2010 Atlantic season has seen nine hurricanes to date, five of them major. But the United States has escaped any significant landfall so far.