Tropical Storm Philippe strengthens, heads for Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, forecast says

Tropical Storm Philippe isn't dead yet.

The storm strengthened slightly in the Atlantic Ocean Wednesday, forecasters from the National Hurricane Center said. They also warned that residents of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands could see heavy rain and potential flooding from the storm.

Philippe, still some 600 miles east of the northern islands of the Caribbean, had winds of 50 mph as of 5 p.m. EDT Wednesday, the hurricane center said. This was up from 45 mph early in the day.

In addition to Philippe, forecasters were also watching a tropical wave that was even further out in the Atlantic. That wave is likely to become Tropical Storm Rina over the next couple of days.

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Heavy rain and flood fears from Philippe

The hurricane center said "Philippe is forecast to produce 2 to 4 inches of rain across the northern Leeward Islands, the Virgin Islands, and eastern Puerto Rico Saturday through Monday. Elsewhere across Puerto Rico, 1 to 2 inches of rain is expected."

Heavy rainfall from Philippe may produce isolated urban and small stream flooding impacts," the hurricane center said.

AccuWeather senior meteorologist Alex Sosnowski said "robust downpours may be intense and persistent enough to lead to incidents of flash flooding, especially on the larger mountainous islands such as Puerto Rico and Hispaniola."

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Track Tropical Storm Philippe

Special note on the NHC cone: The forecast track shows the most likely path of the center of the storm. It does not illustrate the full width of the storm or its impacts, and the center of the storm is likely to travel outside the cone up to 33% of the time.

Spaghetti models for Tropical Storm Philippe

A note about the spaghetti models: Model plot illustrations include an array of forecast tools and models, and not all are created equal. The hurricane center uses the top four or five highest-performing models to help make its forecasts.

Rain not all bad in dry Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands

Some rain from Philippe would be welcome in portions of the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, both of which are enduring drought or abnormally dry conditions. In fact, according to the most recent U.S. Drought Monitor, both St. Croix and St. Thomas are enduring "exceptional" drought – the worst drought category.

On St. Croix, "the drought, exacerbated by heat and wind, has significantly impacted agriculture, the Drought Monitor said. "Farmers across the island report localized, sporadic rain, but it is not penetrating the hard, hot, and dry soil. Over 200 head of cattle and 20 horses have died from these conditions."

In Puerto Rico, most of the northern half of the island is considered "abnormally dry" by the monitor.

Above: A tropical wave (red x) has a 90% chance of becoming Tropical Storm Rina.

Watching for Tropical Storm Rina?

A tropical wave, located several hundred miles from Philippe, will likely become a tropical depression or tropical storm within the next day or so, the hurricane center said Wednesday afternoon.

If it becomes a tropical storm, it would likely get the name Rina.

The system may follow a similar path to Philippe, AccuWeather said, and head west toward the Caribbean. It "may wander close enough to bring some impacts to the islands of the northeastern Caribbean next week," Sosnowski said.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Tropical Storm Philippe NHC forecast includes Puerto Rico impacts