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10-19-2005, 08:36 AM
Wilma Becomes `Extremely Dangerous' Category 5 Storm


Oct. 19 (Bloomberg) -- Hurricane Wilma has become an "extremely dangerous" Category 5 storm, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said in its latest Web site advisory, citing data from a reconnaissance aircraft.

The plane measured winds of 175 mph (280 kph) up from 110 mph yesterday, the center said. Wilma is likely to lessen to a Category 3 storm when it makes landfall on the Florida peninsula on Oct. 22 or 23, said Jennifer Pralgo, a meteorologist at the center.

"Hurricanes at this magnitude don't often hold their strength," Pralgo said in a telephone interview today. "We'll see the winds weakening in the next 12 hours, approximately to a category four storm."

Wilma will have the same punch Katrina had when it slammed into the U.S. gulf coast in August, killing more than 1,200 people. Research showed Katrina was a category three storm when it reached land, not four as originally assumed, Pralgo said. Wilma was located 175 miles south-southeast of Grand Cayman at 1 a.m. Miami time.

Wilma is the 12th hurricane of the Atlantic Ocean season, tying a 1969 record. Wilma is forecast to graze Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula and western Cuba by Oct. 21 then turn northwest toward the north half of the Florida Peninsula. The hurricane was moving west-northwest at about 8 mph.

Hurricane force winds extend out 15 miles from the center and tropical storm force winds extend to 155 miles.

Violent Windstorms
The lower Keys and southwest Florida coast may begin to have rain and squalls, which are sudden violent windstorms, some tropical-storm-force winds and tornadoes, said Stacy Stewart, a hurricane center meteorologist.

Mexico earlier issued a hurricane watch for parts of the Yucatan, while Cuba issued a watch for the provinces of Matanzas west through Pinar Del Rio. A hurricane watch means winds of 74 mph or higher are possible in the next 36 hours.

This year's June 1-Nov. 30 season has already equaled the record of most storms, matching the 21 named storms of 1933.

Rainfall of 10 to 15 inches (25 to 38 centimeters) was forecast for Cuba with as much as 25 inches in mountainous areas. For Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, the forecast is for 5 to 10 inches. Parts of Honduras and Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico were forecast to receive as much as 12 inches of rain.