Gathering strength at a fierce pace, Hurricane Wilma swirled into the most intense Atlantic storm ever recorded Wednesday, a Category 5 monster packing 175 mph wind that forecasts warned was "extremely dangerous." Wilma was dumping rain on Central America and Mexico. A hurricane watch was in effect for the east coast of Mexico's Yucatan peninsula, parts of Cuba and the Cayman Islands, and forecasters warned of a "significant threat" to Florida by the weekend.
"All interests in the Florida Keys and the Florida peninsula should closely monitor the progress of extremely dangerous Hurricane Wilma," the National Hurricane Center in Miami said.
At 8 a.m., the hurricane was centered about 340 miles southeast of Cozumel, Mexico. Maximum sustained wind was 175 mph, forecasters said.
It was expected to dump up to 25 inches of rain in mountainous areas of Cuba through Friday, and up to up to 15 inches in the Caymans and Jamaica through Thursday. Up to 12 inches was possible from Honduras through the Yucatan peninsula, the U.S. weather service said.
Wilma's confirmed pressure readings Wednesday morning dropped to 882 millibars - the lowest minimum pressure ever measured in a hurricane in the Atlantic basin, according to the hurricane center. Lower pressure translates into higher wind speed, the AP informs.
Forecasters said Wilma was stronger than the devastating Labor Day hurricane that hit the Florida Keys in 1935, the strongest Atlantic hurricane to make landfall on record. But Wilma wasn't expected to keep its record strength for long, as higher disruptive atmospheric winds in the Gulf of Mexico around the hurricane should weaken it before landfall, said Hugh Cobb, a meteorologist at the hurricane center.