Category 2 Hurricane Paula passed 60 miles east of the resort town of Cancun, Mexico this morning, packing maximum sustained winds of 100 mph, according to catastrophe modeling firm AIR Worldwide. With hurricane force winds extending only 15 miles outward from the center, Paula did not bring damaging winds to the hotel-lined Yucatan coast. In Cancun, maximum recorded winds were below tropical storm strength.
Ahead of the storm, authorities evacuated 1,500 residents off the Isla Holbox and 60 fishermen from Isla Contoy, and sea travel was suspended to and from Cozumel. Paula’s passage near these islands earlier this morning was uneventful, and no damage has been reported thus far, AIR said.
“The rapid intensification that Paula went through yesterday has concluded, and there has been little change in strength in the storm overnight,” said Dr. Tim Doggett, principal scientist at AIR Worldwide. “The upper levels winds have increased as expected, which will result in higher amounts of wind shear around Paula. This will gradually weaken the storm over the next couple of days.”
According to the National Hurricane Center’s (NHC) 10:00 AM CDT advisory, the storm was located approximately 70 miles east of Cancun and 65 miles west-southwest of Cuba. It is moving north near 5 mph, and an upper level flow is expected to turn Paula to the northeast and then east later today toward Cuba. On its projected path, Paula is not expected to threaten Mexico’s main offshore oil-producing region.
NHC’s current forecast takes Paula north of western Cuba around a persistent area of high pressure over the Caribbean. Tropical storm force winds could start affecting Cuba beginning this evening, and a hurricane warning is in effect for the province of Pinar del Rio, Cuba.
“If the storm tracks further eastward, interaction with mountainous terrain will further disrupt the storm,” said Doggett. “Given the small size of this system, once the storm encounters these mountains, it should decay quickly.”
Doggett said it is possible that Paula will track further north, remain over water, and approach the Florida Keys. “If this scenario is realized, Paula may be able to maintain its structure for a longer period of time and impact the western Keys over the weekend. However, given the existing environmental shear, it is unlikely the system will be at hurricane strength at that time,” he said.
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