MIAMI (Reuters) - Tropical Storm Ophelia was churning its way toward the Caribbean on Wednesday after intensifying overnight, but U.S. forecasters said it was not expected to strengthen into a hurricane.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) said Ophelia, the 15th named storm of the 2011 Atlantic hurricane season, formed late on Tuesday about midway between Africa and the Caribbean's Lesser Antilles Islands.
It posed little apparent threat to the U.S. coast or energy interests in the Gulf of Mexico.
James Franklin, chief hurricane specialist at the Miami-based NHC, said it was too soon to pinpoint Ophelia's expected track through the Caribbean with certainty.
But he said the NHC expected the storm, packing strong wind gusts and heavy rain squalls, to pass near or north of the northeastern Lesser Antilles by the weekend and north of Puerto Rico by Monday.
At 5 p.m. EDT (2100 GMT), Ophelia was 1,165 miles east of the Caribbean's Leeward Islands and had top sustained winds of 60 miles per hour, the NHC said.
Little change in strength was forecast over the next two days but Ophelia may already have peaked in terms of intensity.
"We're not forecasting any additional increase in strength," Franklin told Reuters. He added that the storm was likely to start weakening slightly over the weekend.
(Reporting by Tom Brown; Editing by Todd Eastham)