October 17, 2005

Wilma may become hurricane

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Four of seven major weather models
predicted Tropical Storm Wilma, which could become a hurricane
by Tuesday, will head for the Gulf Coast of Florida.

Earlier Monday morning, most of the models forecast the
storm would crash into the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico or
Belize later this week.

By late morning, most of the forecasts showed the storm
would turn north toward western Cuba and Florida's Gulf Coast.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center still forecast the storm
would graze the northeastern tip of the Yucatan and enter the
Gulf of Mexico where it could threaten the already
hurricane-battered U.S. oil and natural gas rigs and refineries
along the Gulf Coast.

The NHC said maximum sustained winds were near 50 miles per
hour with higher gusts, making Wilma the 21st named tropical
storm of the active and devastating 2005 Atlantic season, tying
the 1933 record for named storms.

The NHC forecast Wilma could become a hurricane by Tuesday.

In an advisory, the NHC said the center of the storm was
located about 235 miles south-southeast of Grand Cayman at
about 2 p.m. EDT (1800 GMT).

Wilma drifted southward over the past few hours but the NHC
said it expected a gradual turn to the west over the next 24
hours, noting the steering currents remain weak and erratic
motion is possible during the next 24 hours.

The NHC will issue a complete advisory at 5 p.m. EDT.