Thursday, October 20, 2005

HURRICANE WILMA is now "the most intense storm the Americas have ever seen," and it's headed for the Florida Keys.

It's a Category 5, with winds of 175 mph.

Wilma's barometric pressure is the lowest ever recorded for an Atlantic Ocean storm.

Wilma has astonished meteorologists with its rapid intensification. As of 4 p.m. Tuesday, Wilma was a minimal hurricane with winds of 80 miles an hour (130 kilometers an hour). But only 18 hours later it had mushroomed into the Atlantic's most powerful storm.

James Franklin, a hurricane specialist at the National Hurricane Center in Miami, said Wilma "obliterated … by a wide margin" the previous record for rapid intensification set in 1967.

This storm is so powerful it evokes nuclear metaphors:

Hurricane Wilma exploded this morning into the most intense hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic basin, a Category 5 monster with 175 mph winds. It adopted a curving path likely to carry it to South Florida this weekend -- as a major hurricane.
Incredibly, the storm grew from a Category 2 hurricane at 11 p.m. Tuesday into a top-scale Category 5 by 5 a.m. A hurricane hunter plane measured its barometric pressure at 884 millibars, the lowest minimum pressure ever recorded in the Atlantic basin, which includes the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico.

This sure seems to be happening a lot lately.

Hurricane Wilma became only the latest unusual event in a season full of anomalies.

Two hurricanes that formed in July -- Dennis and Emily -- were the most intense on record for that month.

In August, Hurricane Katrina virtually destroyed New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. Less than a month later Hurricane Rita became the third most powerful hurricane ever to form in the Atlantic before weakening and making landfall near the Texas-Louisiana border.

"There are so many astounding things about this season," Blackwell said.

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