The most powerful hurricane of the year may lash Florida by weekend
Hurricane Wilma strengthened into a Category 5 monster early Wednesday packing 175 mph winds. Wilma's pressure readings Wednesday morning indicated that it was the strongest hurricane of the season, said Trisha Wallace, a meteorologist at the National Hurricane Center in Miami. Wilma had a reading of 892 millibars, the same reading as a devastating unnamed hurricane that hit the Florida Keys in 1935.
"We do not know how long it will maintain this Category 5 state," Wallace said.
Countless Floridians shook their heads in disbelief Tuesday night as Wilma rapidly intensified in the Caribbean and adopted a curving path that could carry it to South Florida this weekend - as a major Category 5 hurricane. The five-day cone of danger covered the entire Florida Peninsula, the Keys and much of Cuba, where the storm's outlying rain produced landslides, floods, mass evacuations and a hurricane watch. Watches and warnings also were posted in the Cayman Islands and for portions of Mexico and Honduras.
This year, officials in the Keys have ordered evacuations for hurricanes Dennis and Rita. Now here comes Wilma. More than 5,000 people were evacuated from portions of Cuba's eastern provinces, according to media reports. The six-month hurricane season officially ends Nov. 30, though that sometimes is a technicality, with storms developing in December.
Wilma was dumping rain on Central America and Mexico, and forecasters warned of a "significant threat" to Florida by the weekend. The storm's power multiplied greatly over the last day. It was only Tuesday morning that Wilma grew from a tropical storm into a weak hurricane with 80 mph winds.