Gathering strength at a fierce pace, Hurricane Wilma swirled into the most intense Atlantic storm ever recorded Wednesday, a Category 5 monster packing 175 mph wind that forecasters warned was “extremely dangerous.”
Wilma was dumping rain on Central America and Mexico. A hurricane watch was in effect for the east coast of Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula, parts of Cuba and the Cayman Islands, and forecasters warned of a “significant threat” to Florida by the weekend.
“All interests in the Florida Keys and the Florida peninsula should closely monitor the progress of extremely dangerous Hurricane Wilma,” the National Hurricane Center in Miami said.
Wilma’s top sustained winds reached 175 mph early Wednesday in the most rapid strengthening ever recorded in a hurricane, said meteorologist Hugh Cobb of the National Hurricane Center in Miami. At the same time Tuesday, Wilma was only a tropical storm with winds of 70 mph.
Its confirmed pressure readings Wednesday morning dropped to 882 millibars _ the lowest ever measured in a hurricane in the Atlantic basin, according to the hurricane center. The strongest on record based on the lowest pressure reading is Hurricane Gilbert in 1988, which dipped to 888 millibars.
Typically, the lower the pressure, the faster the air speeds. But because the pressure around each storm is different, lower pressure doesn’t always correspond to a specific wind speed.
Forecasters said Wilma was more powerful than the devastating September 1935 hurricane that hit the Florida Keys, the strongest Atlantic hurricane to make landfall on record. But Wilma wasn’t expected to keep its record strength for long, as higher disruptive atmospheric winds in the Gulf of Mexico around the hurricane should weaken it before landfall, Cobb said.
I watched the Weather Channel for a few minutes this morning and they were predicting that Wilma would be a Cat 3 or 4 before it made landfall in the US.
Batten down the hatches, Florida. Looks like this weekend is going to get really nasty.
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