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Jeb asks why hurricanes keep hitting florida { October 19 2005 }

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Wilma's winds reach 175 mph, forecast to hit S. Florida as major storm

By Ken Kaye
Staff Writer
Posted October 19 2005, 2:45 AM EDT

Hurricane Wilma's winds reached 175 mph and its pressure dropped to 892 mb this morning, making it an extremely intense Category 5 hurricane as it moved across the Caribbean with a projected landfall in Florida.

This is the lowest pressure observed in 2005 and is equivalent to the minimum pressure of the 1935 Labor Day hurricane in the Florida Keys, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

Hurricane Wilma appeared determined to make a dramatic right turn toward South Florida, possibly arriving with winds of up to 115 mph on Saturday, though the region could start feeling rain from its fringes on Friday.

Wilma, the season's record-tying 12th hurricane, intensified to a strong Category 5 storm Wednesday morning, and it was forecast to reach the Gulf of Mexico on Friday afternoon after marching northwest across the Caribbean.

The expansive system was projected to accelerate toward Florida's Gulf Coast and strike near Naples by Saturday evening, potentially as a Category 4 with 145 mph winds.

From there, Wilma might barrel just south of Lake Okeechobee and emerge in the Atlantic near Stuart, possibly retaining 115 mph strength, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami-Dade County.

"There isn't much between Cape Sable and Miami to slow it down," hurricane specialist Stacy Stewart said. "Plus, you have Everglades water, which is very warm. We could easily be dealing with a Category 3 on this side of the state."

Hurricane watches could be hoisted in South Florida by Thursday, and because of the threat of storm surge, an evacuation of coastal residents could be ordered on Thursday or Friday, emergency managers said.

If the current track holds, Wilma could be "Irene on steroids," said Tony Carper, Broward County's emergency management director, referring to Hurricane Irene, which in October 1999 left widespread flooding in South Florida.

"I don't think there's going to be quite as much rain as there was with Irene, but the winds are going to be stronger," he said. "It's almost the same track as Irene."

Under the forecast, South Florida would be on the storm's right, or more vicious side, and could see up to 7 inches of rain, starting as early as Friday morning. The winds would pick up on Saturday and rage through the night. Conditions would start clearing on Sunday.

"Now is the time for folks in South Florida to get their hurricane plan back out and dust it off, because the season's not over," Stewart said.

The projected path could change, but computer-forecast models are in general agreement that South Florida is in for a rough weekend. The reason: A cold front, descending southeast across the country, is expected to force Wilma to make that sharp right turn.

If the turn is delayed and Wilma hits farther north, South Florida's weather would be less severe. A more remote possibility: The turn could be made soon enough to keep the system south of the state.

"Exactly where and when it's going to make the turn, it's too uncertain to say," Stewart said.

Gov. Jeb Bush, like millions of Floridians, expressed amazement that another hurricane is headed toward the state, which has been hit an unprecedented six times in the past two years, including hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne in 2004 and Dennis and Katrina this year.

"Why us? How could it be a storm would take a sharp, 90-degree turn to the east? It's something that we're going to have to live with and prepare for," he said Tuesday.

As the 12th hurricane of the season, Wilma tied this year with 1969 for the record number of hurricanes. It also was the 21st named storm, tying this year with 1933 as the busiest on record. And it was the first storm to start with "W" because storms weren't given names until 1953.

Early Wednesday, Wilma was in the northwestern Caribbean about 170 miles south of Grand Cayman, or about 500 miles south of Miami, lumbering west-northwest at 8 mph with sustained winds of 175 mph.

Hurricane watches have been posted for western Cuba and the Yucatan. Cuban officials instructed residents to tune in to national broadcasts and to be cautious of rising rivers and flooding.

Because the Keys could be swamped by Wilma's storm surge, an evacuation of nonresidents could be ordered today.

Cities along Florida's Gulf Coast also were preparing for Wilma's onslaught, mindful of the bashing Category 4 Charley gave the Port Charlotte-Punta Gorda area in August 2004.

"People have learned their lesson and know better how to prepare. We're not waiting till the last minute anymore," said Andrea Yerger, 48, of Port Charlotte.

Staff Writer Ruth Morris and Orlando Sentinel Staff Writer Jason Garcia contributed to this report, which was supplemented with information from The Associated Press.

Ken Kaye can be reached at or 954-385-7911.

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