Watching Wilma from the Hurricane Center

By Sunday morning Wilma was a Category 2 hurricane as it headed into the Gulf of Mexico. Its next target is likely to be the west coast of Florida, with landfall expected Monday. It could pick up strength as it crosses the Gulf.

JOHN YDSTIE, host:

NPR's Chris Joyce joins us now from the National Hurricane Center in Miami, Florida.

Hello, Chris.

CHRIS JOYCE reporting:

Hello, John.

YDSTIE: What's the latest that forecasters are saying about Hurricane Wilma?

JOYCE: Well, as you've mentioned before, it looks to be a Category 2 at this point. That could change. The folks here at the Hurricane Center want to be careful about what they say because it still has about 300 miles to go. It's not moving terribly fast right now, about three to five miles per hour toward the Northeast, but it's packing winds of about 100 miles an hour. And they expect landfall perhaps around daybreak tomorrow probably around Naples, somewhere in the southwestern part of the state. And, of course, there's potentials for tornadoes and the storm surge has them worried. That could be as high as seven, perhaps 10 feet if it remains a Category 2, and it's about the same track as Charley took last year, which, I guess, people in Florida are rather tired of seeing this.

YDSTIE: Mm-hmm.

JOYCE: It's been the eighth hurricane in two years. And it's a wide or a big one in the sense that it covers a lot of territory; last checked, I think about 170 miles across. So it's not necessarily the intensity of the winds that is worrisome; it's, you know, how much area it's gonna cover. And so, so far, they think about a 2.

YDSTIE: Mm-hmm. This storm has behaved quite differently from storms like Katrina and Rita who seemed to have--take aim at the coast and get there. How are forecasters explaining Wilma's wanderings?

JOYCE: Well, one of them this morning said to me perplexing. I remember some of the discussions earlier in the week had--some of the models had the hurricane going as far north as Maine while others said it would stay and hang around the Yucatan which obviously was the correct one. They've got about a dozen models and five or six ones they really prefer, and there has been a lot of variety. And hurricanes are very complex. I mean, you might think of a spinning top, for example, on the top of your desk and you give it a little nudge and it's gonna head off in a direction you might not be able to predict. And you've got a low pressure system in North America, which is what's driving it to Florida now, and you've got currents in the ocean, in the Gulf of Mexico, that bring warm water and fuel the hurricane. And there's so many things working at once that while they're quite confident about the track so far, it's been mostly the speed of the hurricane that's had them confused.

YDSTIE: Mm-hmm. Little doubt left now, though, that it's gonna go to Florida and hit Florida tomorrow morning.

JOYCE: No. As they say, the closer it gets, the surer they are of the direction. And the only thing left really now is to determine what the wind speeds are gonna be when it hits. And these could change at the last minute, but it's likely to be a 2.

YDSTIE: Chris, yesterday, there was a record set. The 22nd tropical storm of the season was given a name, this time Alpha for the first letter of the Greek alphabet. Is this large number of big storms indicative of a trend or is it just a weather quirk?

JOYCE: That's a tough one. Climatologists and meteorologists say they expected a big year. I think the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted up to 21 named hurricanes this year. And so they got 22. So some people have speculated about global warming. So far, most scientists say, `No, we can't tell yet.' It's just a decade when we're seeing a lot and next year even more perhaps.

YDSTIE: Mm-hmm. NPR's Chris Joyce at the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

Thanks, Chris.

JOYCE: You're welcome.

YDSTIE: It's 18 minutes past the hour.

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