Floridians along the southwestern coast of the peninsula are closely watching as Hurricane Wilma slowly move along the southwestern Caribbean. National Hurricane Center forecasters in Miami predict after Wilma crosses Yucatan and the Mexican Peninsula, it could turn back toward Florida and make landfall Sunday along the southwestern Gulf coast. At the same time, NHC tracking shows a good possibility Wilma could make landfall around Naples on the west coast, and continue its track across land to hit the crowded counties on the southeast coast from Miami, northward.
Emergency Management teams in Marco Island, Naples and Fort Myers are preparing for the worst. Under normal circumstances, October marks one of the lowest seasons for tourists, so evacuation measures, if necessary, are expected to be smoother than if the area was crowded with tourists.
Weather models show Wilma moving northwest across the Caribbean Sea to the waters between Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula and western Cuba, where it will enter the Gulf of Mexico and turn northeast towards the south-central Gulf Coast of Florida.
Wilma is still moving west-northwest at nearly seven miles per hour, with a turn towards the northwest expected later today. Its maximum sustained winds decreased to near 145 mph with higher gusts, making Wilma a Category 4 (winds 131-155 mph) hurricane.
The NHC expects the storm to restrengthen into a Category 5 (winds over 155 mph) storm within 24 hours but weaken into a Category 3 (winds 111-130 mph) storm before making landfall on the Florida coast.
NHC warned in its latest bulletin that all interests in the Florida Keys and the Florida Peninsula should closely monitor the progress of this extremely dangerous hurricane. The Florida Keys have already begun to evacuate, as have several cities on the southwest coast of Florida.
At 2 pm EDT the center of Wilma was near latitude 18.6 north, longitude 85.5 west, or about 160 miles south-southeast of Cozumel, Mexico. Wilma is moving toward the northwest near 5 mph with a turn to the west-northwest or northwest expected during the
next 24 hours.
Maximum sustained winds are near 145 mph with higher gusts. Wilma is a category four hurricane, NHC predicts some re-strengthening is forecast during the next 24 hours.
Hurricane force winds extend outward up to 90 miles from the center and tropical storm force winds extend outward up to 260 miles. 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 where the center makes landfall on the Yucatan Peninsula.
Wilma is expected to produce 10 to 20 inches of rain through Saturday across portions of western Cuba and the Yucatan Peninsula, with isolated amounts of 40 inches possible, particularly over higher terrain in western Cuba. Additional rainfall accumulations of 2 to 4 inches with isolated amounts of 8 inches are possible across the Cayman Islands, Swan Island and portions of Honduras through Friday.
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