A weather system strengthening in the Caribbean was upgraded Tuesday to a tropical storm named Earl, which earlier left a trail of death and destruction in the Dominican Republic, officials said.
The center of Earl was about 450 miles east of Belize’s largest city, Belize City, as of 5 p.m. ET Tuesday, according to the National Hurricane Center, and was moving at a brisk 16 mph clip with top sustained winds of 50 mph.
Belize was bracing for isolated maximum rainfall of 16 inches from Earl — the Atlantic basin’s first named storm since late June.
Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula were also set to get slammed with 8 to 12 inches of rain along with high winds and flooding.
The storm threat comes after Earl — as a weaker tropical wave — pummeled the Dominican Republic on Sunday, knocking down power lines and starting a fire that killed six passengers on a bus filled with people returning from the beach.
“The storm is cylindrical, it is getting better organized and further strengthening is possible as the movement continues,” said AccuWeather meteorologist Bernie Rayno.
Earl will brush the coast of Honduras late Tuesday and into early Wednesday, and then make landfall near Belize City late Wednesday night before sweeping into Mexico, Rayno said.
The U.S. is not expected to take a direct hit.
This is the seventh time the name Earl has been used for an Atlantic storm, according to The Weather Channel.
The name Earl made its debut among Atlantic storm systems in 1980, and was then used again in 1986, 1992, 1998, 2004 and 2010.
The last Earl grew into a hurricane that passed well off the North Carolina’s Outer Banks, but still caused flooding across the state and battered a big swath of the East Coast with waves and high winds.
Typically, Atlantic hurricane and tropical storm name lists repeat every six years, The Weather Channel reported. But if a storm turns deadly or destructive, the World Meteorological Organization committee votes to retire that name from future lists.