Tropical Storm Wilma Upgraded to Hurricane - KTRE.com | Lufkin and Nacogdoches, Texas

10/18/05 – Miami

Tropical Storm Wilma Upgraded to Hurricane

Hurricane specialist James Franklin charts the course of Tropical Storm Wilma, Monday, Oct. 17, 2005, at the National Hurricane Center in Miami. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee) Hurricane specialist James Franklin charts the course of Tropical Storm Wilma, Monday, Oct. 17, 2005, at the National Hurricane Center in Miami. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
Hurricane Wilma gains strength in the southern Caribbean. Hurricane Wilma gains strength in the southern Caribbean.

by John Pain, Associated Press Writer

Tropical Storm Wilma strengthened into a hurricane Tuesday on a path that could threatenFlorida, tying the record for the most hurricanes to form in an Atlantic season.

Wilma is the 12th hurricane of the season, a number reached once before in 1969 since record-keeping began in 1851. At 11 a.m. EDT, Wilma had top sustained winds of near 75 mph, just above the 74 mph threshold to be a hurricane.

Long-range forecasts show Wilma could hit western Cuba or the 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 bearing down on Florida over the weekend.

It is forecast to become a Category 3 hurricane with winds exceeding 111 mph by Thursday. Conditions such as warm water and favorable atmospheric winds in the northwestern Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico indicate strengthening, 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 more than $20 billion in estimated damage 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.

Wilma first 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's center was about 195 miles south-southeast of Grand Cayman and about 200 miles east-northeast of the Nicaragua-Honduras border. It was moving northwest near 7 mph.

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

"There's no scenario now that takes it toward Louisiana or Mississippi, but that could change," said Max Mayfield, director of the National Hurricane Center.

The Cayman Islands were under a hurricane watch, meaning those conditions could be felt within 36 hours. A tropical storm warning was posted there and for the Honduran coast, meaning those conditions were expected within 24 hours. The storm is expected to bring 2 to 6 inches of rain in the Caymans, southeastern Cuba, Haiti, Honduras and Jamaica, with as much as 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.

"We've got six weeks to go, so a lot of things can happen," Mayfield said, noting that there have been 10 late-season hurricanes Category 3 or higher since 1995.

On the Net:

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

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