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Wilma Now a Hurricane, May Threaten Fla.
By JOHN PAIN, Associated Press Writer

MIAMI - Tropical Storm Wilma strengthened into a hurricane Tuesday on a path that could threaten storm-battered Florida, tying the record for the most hurricanes to form in an Atlantic season.
Wilma is the 12th hurricane of the season, the same number reached in 1969, the highest since record-keeping began in 1851. At 11 a.m. EDT, Wilma had top sustained wind of near 75 mph, just above the 74 mph threshold to be a hurricane.
Long-range forecasts show Wilma could hit western Cuba or Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula before heading into the Gulf of Mexico by Friday. The storm could also spare those countries while passing through the Yucatan Channel. Either way, computer models showed Wilma turning northeastward and bearing down on Florida during the weekend.

It is forecast to become a Category 3 hurricane with wind exceeding 111 mph by Thursday, forecasters said.

"It does look like it poses a significant threat to Florida by the weekend. Of course, these are four- and five-day forecasts, so things can change," said Dan Brown, a meteorologist at the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

Seven hurricanes have hit or passed close to Florida since August 2004, causing damage estimated at more than $20 billion and killing nearly 150 people. Wilma was on a path that could threaten coastal areas in the southwest part of the state hit by Hurricane Charley - the first of the seven - last year.

In Punta Gorda, which was devastated by Charley, there was little evidence Tuesday of preparation for Wilma but Dawn Andrews, a worker at Deep Creek Florist, said she already had emergency supplies like bottled water and canned food.

"It's got nowhere else to go without hurting somebody," Andrews, 35, said of Wilma. "I have a 7-year-old who's petrified just because of everything he's seen on TV. I can't even watch it when he's around."

Wilma entered the history books Monday, becoming the Atlantic hurricane season's 21st named storm before dawn, tying the record set in 1933 and exhausting the list of storm names.

At 11 a.m., Wilma was centered about 195 miles south-southeast of Grand Cayman and about 200 miles east-northeast of the Nicaragua-Honduras border. It was moving northwest at about 7 mph.

The Gulf Coast was already battered this year by Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Dennis, while Emily hit Mexico. Areas devastated by Katrina will likely be spared by Wilma.

The Cayman Islands were under a hurricane watch, meaning those conditions could be felt within 36 hours, and a tropical storm warning was posted there and for the coast of Honduras. Two to 6 inches of rain was expected in the Caymans, southeastern Cuba, Haiti, Honduras and Jamaica, with up to 12 inches possible in some areas, forecasters said.

The six-month hurricane season ends Nov. 30. Wilma is the last on the list of storm names for 2005; there are 21 names on the yearly list because the letters Q, U, X, Y and Z are skipped. If any other storms form, letters from the Greek alphabet would be used, starting with Alpha, for the first time. Storms have gotten alphabetical names only in the past 60 years.

There have been 10 late-season hurricanes Category 3 or higher since 1995.

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On the Net:

National Hurricane Center: http://www.nhc.noaa.gov
 

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Wilma Strengthens To Category 5 Storm

Hurricane Poses 'Significant Threat' To Florida

POSTED: 11:25 am EDT October 16, 2005
UPDATED: 6:02 am EDT October 19, 2005

MIAMI -- Hurricane Wilma strengthened into a Category 5 storm Wednesday, the highest level on the classification scale.

Forecasters in Miami said a hurricane hunter plane measured top sustained winds of 175 mph. The storm has gotten much stronger since late Tuesday night. They said a key reading of the storm's pressure shows it to be the most powerful of the year, and they warned of a "significant threat" to Florida.

Wilma remains on track to skirt Central America and Mexico. It's expected to make a turn and head toward southwest Florida by the weekend. Coastal areas in the potential path include those struck last year by Hurricane Charley, a Category 4 storm.

At 5 a.m. EDT, the center of Hurricane Wilma was located near latitude 17.2 north, longitude 82.5 west or about 170 miles south-southwest of Grand Cayman. Wilma is moving toward the west-northwest near 8 mph, and a turn to the northwest is expected during the next 24 hours.

Maximum sustained winds are near 175 mph, with higher gusts, and some fluctuations in strength are expected during the next 24 hours.

A hurricane watch is in effect for the Cuban province of Matanzas westward through Pinar Del Rio, and for the Isle of Youth. A watch is also in effect in Mexico for the Yucatan Peninsula, from Punta Gruesa to Cabo Catoche. A tropical storm warning remains in effect for Honduras from the Honduras-Nicaragua border westward to Cabo Camaron.

New models place the storm closer to western Cuba than Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula by Friday. The storm is forecast to then turn sharply in the Gulf of Mexico toward Florida. The hurricane center said there's no scenario right now that takes the storm toward storm-ravaged Mississippi and Louisiana, but that could change.

Wilma is expected to produce additional rainfall accumulations of 10 to 15 inches, with isolated amounts of 25 inches, over the mountainous terrain of Cuba. Additional rainfall accumulations of 5 to 10 inches, with local amounts of 15 inches, are possible across the Cayman Islands, Swan Island and Jamaica through Thursday. Storm total accumulations of 4 to 6 inches, with isolated amounts of 8 to 12 inches, are possible from Honduras northward to the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico through Thursday.
 
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