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Hurricane Wilma Update

October 21, 2005 at 12:00 AM EDT


JIM LEHRER: Jeffrey Brown has the latest on Hurricane Wilma. He spoke a short time ago with senior meteorologist Bernie Rayno of AccuWeather.

JEFFREY BROWN: Mr. Rayno, where is Wilma now and how strong is it?

BERNIE RAYNO: Well, Wilma right now is a Category 4 hurricane maximum sustained winds of 140 miles per hour. And it is right over Cozumel. In fact, you can see the eye going right over Cozumel. This is the dot which shows the airport in Cozumel. It’s right in the middle of the eye.

Also just off to the south of Cancun, and Cancun is feeling the full brunt of this Category 4 hurricane as we speak; this is what we are going to be looking at here Friday night into Saturday. This red area is where we are going to see maximum sustained winds up over 100 miles per hour. We’re going to see at least ten to twenty inches of rain. Some spots are going to get more than that.

And I will tell you what, Cozumel and Cancun will never be the same. I shouldn’t say never, but it’s going to take a good time to clean this area up, probably about five to ten years before it’s back to what it was before Wilma hit.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now all day long forecasters have been saying that this one is hard, particularly hard to predict. What is your tracking telling you about where it is going in the coming days?

BERNIE RAYNO: Well, it is going to be hard to predict because it is going to be slowing down across the Yucatan Peninsula we think as we go through the night. It is also going to be weakening over time as well. And here’s why it’s going to be weakening: It’s going to be stalling over land a little bit and move very slower. And the water in the Gulf of Mexico is much, much cooler. So not only is it going to be overland which brings dry air into the storm but once it moves over the water it’s going to be a little cooler.

Now what’s going to then happen as we get into the weekend, the storm is going to encounter westerly winds across the central Gulf of Mexico. That’s going to do two things: Number one, it’s going to start turning it more to the right. And number two, it’s still going to allow it to weaken more.

Right now the threat area, and this is on Monday, we’re looking for landfall Monday, anywhere from Fort Meyers down towards the Keys, probably as a Category 2 or Category 1 hurricane. Category 2 hurricanes, maximum sustained winds of 96 to 111. And of course Category 1 is 75 to 95. So it’s a formidable storm for South Florida early next week, but it’s not the same monster that it is right now.

JEFFREY BROWN: This one got a lot of attention for turning from a tropical storm into one of the strongest ever. How did that happen? How does that kind of thing happen?

BERNIE RAYNO: Well, in my 15 years of operational forecasting, I’ve never seen a storm go from a tropical storm, then to a hurricane, then to a Cat 5 in 12 hours. That’s what happened. In fact, it was the strongest hurricane ever recorded given its pressure in the Atlantic basin. There was a lot of warm water across northwest Caribbean. Remember, it is that warm water that helps feed the hurricanes and allows it to strengthen.

Also conditions were perfect in the middle and upper part of the atmosphere — very light winds that did not disrupt the inflow of the hurricane. And that’s why it got that strong. But, remember, that was two days ago. It’s been slowly, ever so slowly weakening as but as we speak, it is still a Category 4 hurricane.

JEFFREY BROWN: Okay, Bernie Rayno of AccuWeather, thanks very much.

BERNIE RAYNO: My pleasure.