Wilma Weakens (Slightly); Nears Yucatan; Florida Still Under Threat

October 20, 2005

Hurricane Wilma has weakened slightly as it approaches the coast of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. In its most recent bulletin Miami’s National Hurricane Center said “maximum sustained winds remain near 155 mph (250 km/hr) with higher gusts,” making Wilma a still very dangerous category four hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale. The NHC notes: “Fluctuations in intensity are common in hurricanes of this intensity, and are likely during the next 24 hours. Wilma could regain category five intensity later today.”

The storm has also greatly increased in size. Yesterday hurricane force winds extended around 15 miles (24 kms) outwards from the center. They now extend outward up to 70 miles (110 kms) from the center, while tropical storm force winds extend outward up to 230 miles (370 kms). Wilma’s barometric pressure has risen from the alltime low of 882 Mb recorded yesterday to 899 Mb (26.55 inches) which is still extremely low.

As of 2:00 a.m. EDT the center of Hurricane Wilma was located near latitude 18.1 north, longitude 84.7 west or about 215 miles (345 kms) southeast of Cozumel. The storm is moving slowly in a west to northwest direction at around near 8 mph (13 km/hr) “with some wobbles of the eye during the past few hours,” the NHC notes. “A turn toward the northwest is expected later today.”

However the NHC’s 3 day forecast, which is based on prevailing weather conditions in the Caribbean, indicates that Wilma will probably turn to the Northeast after clearing the Yucatan Peninsula. This would put the storm on a collision course with Southern Florida by Sunday morning. The NHC warns that, “all interests in the Florida Keys and the Florida Peninsula should closely monitor the progress of extremely dangerous Hurricane Wilma.”

A hurricane warning is in effect from San Felipe to Punta Allen on the Yucatan Peninsula, including Cozumel and the nearby islands. A hurricane warning is also in effect for Swan Island, while a hurricane watch is in effect for the northern and western coasts of the Yucatan peninsula west of San Felipe to Celestun. A hurricane watch also remains in effect for the east coast of the Yucatan Peninsula from south of Punta Allen to Punta Gruesa. A tropical storm warning remains in effect from south of Punta Allen to Chetuma, Mexico, and for Belize from the border with Mexico southward to Belize City.

In Cuba the NHC said a tropical storm warning is in effect for the provinces of La Habana, Ciudad de la Habana, Pinar del Rio and the Isle of Youth, while a hurricane watch remains in effect for the provinces of Matanzas westward through Pinar del Rio and for the Isle of Youth.

A tropical storm warning remains in effect for Honduras from the Honduras/Nicaragua border westward to Cabo Camaron.

Heavy rains and mudslides have already been responsible for at least 10 deaths in Haiti, and the NHC warns that, “if the center of Wilma makes landfall on the Yucatan peninsula, coastal storm surge flooding of 7-10 feet above normal tide levels, along with large and dangerous battering waves, can be expected near and to the north of the center. Wilma is expected to produce storm total rainfall accumulations of 10 to 15 inches (16 to 25 cms) across portions of Western Cuba and the Yucatan Peninsula, 25 inches (39 cms) in mountainous terrain across Cuba through Friday.” The NHC also said: “Additional rainfall accumulations of 2 to 4 inches (3.2 to 6.4 cms) with local amounts of 8 inches (12.8 cms) are possible across the Cayman Islands, Swan Island and the northern portions of Honduras through today. “

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