October 17, 2005

Wilma ties Atlantic hurricane season record

MIAMI (Reuters) - The 2005 Atlantic hurricane season tied a
72-year-old record for busiest ever with the formation of
Tropical Storm Wilma on Monday.

Wilma, which was drifting slowly through the northwestern
Caribbean Sea, became the 21st tropical storm or hurricane of
the season, matching the record set in 1933.

Forecasters said it could reach the Gulf of Mexico later in
the week and could threaten the storm-ravaged U.S. Gulf Coast.

At 8 a.m. (1200 GMT), the center of Wilma was about 205
miles southeast of Grand Cayman, the largest island in the
Cayman Islands, a British colony south of Cuba, the U.S.
National Hurricane Center in Miami said.

It was moving south at about 5 mph (8 kph) but was expected
to move erratically to the southwest or west in the next 24
hours, forecasters said. Storm alerts were in effect for the
Cayman Islands.

Maximum sustained winds were 40 mph (64 kph) and
forecasters said Wilma could become a hurricane in the next
three days. The hurricane center's probable long-range track
had Wilma crossing the tip of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula and
emerging into the gulf late on Friday or early on Saturday.

The 2005 Atlantic hurricane season has been one of the
worst ever. In addition to its record-tying 21 storms, the
season produced Hurricane Katrina, which is likely to be the
most expensive storm in history.

At one point a Category 5 hurricane, the strongest on the
five-stage hurricane scale, Katrina swamped the levees
protecting New Orleans and flooded the famed jazz city, causing
insured damage estimated at more than $30 billion and killing
more than 1,200 people.

Katrina's damage toll is likely to exceed that of Hurricane
Andrew, which caused more than $25 billion in damage when it
hit southern Florida in 1992.

The naming of Wilma -- tropical cyclones are given names
when sustained winds reach 39 mph (63 kph) -- meant the
hurricane center has reached the end of its seasonal list of
male and female names. If more tropical storms form this
season, forecasters will begin using the Greek alphabet,
starting with Alpha.