Hurricane Wilma Lashes Florida

Hurricane Wilma makes landfall in Florida Monday morning with 125-mph sustained winds. The Category 3 hurricane picked up strength as it crossed the Gulf of Mexico from the Yucatan Peninsula.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

(Joined in progress) Inskeep.

Hurricane Wilma has been smashing into Florida for most of this morning. The eye of the storm hovers somewhere near West Palm Beach and it's moving northeast across the state about 25 miles an hour. This storm has been downgraded to a Category 2 storm, but it's still dangerous and Florida Governor Jeb Bush told residents earlier today that the hurricane is not over.

Governor JEB BUSH (Republican, Florida): Don't be fooled by the lull in the storm as this large eye passes over Palm Beach and Martin counties. The threat for tornadoes across the eastern side of the peninsula will continue for the next few hours. Residents in south Florida and the Keys should continue sheltering in place and remain inside.

INSKEEP: That's Florida Governor Jeb Bush speaking from the state Emergency Operations Center which is in Tallahassee.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

NPR's Christopher Joyce joins me now on the line from the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

And, Chris, where is this storm right now and how strong is it?

CHRISTOPHER JOYCE reporting:

Well, as the governor mentioned, it's headed offshore. It's about somewhere near Palm Beach County and it's downgraded to about a Category 2, about--meaning 105 miles per hour and decreasing as we speak. Nonetheless, as you said, it's still a very serious storm. The back end of the storm, if you will, is quite wide. It's a big, wide storm and it's still packing winds that are above 80 miles per hour, even at the very outer edges of it, and so people are well advised to be careful. And otherwise it went pretty much as predicted. It transited the state pretty quickly at 25 miles per hour, which was a blessing of sorts, because it meant that the suffering was not as extended as it might have been. But nonetheless, there's quite a bit of damage. It's really pretty early to tell how bad the damage is, but information from people in the Keys, the Florida Keys, say that there's extensive flooding there and that the power is out throughout the Keys. I've also heard that there's power out in large areas of Dade and Broward counties, so too soon to tell, but it looks like it's been a pretty serious storm.

MONTAGNE: Well, the storm came quite close to you there at the National Hurricane Center. Describe it for us.

JOYCE: Well, quite astonishing. They tell me here that--you know, this building is built like a cinder block. It was built to be the last building to stand in one of these, and they put the shutters down after the winds got up to hurricane speed. But they left one door, not open exactly, but you could go out into sort of a protected vestibule surrounded by concrete and cast a view out into the campus of Florida International University. And I tell you, I've never seen anything like it. It's basically a whiteout. It's wind that's whipped water and rain into sort of a froth and trees that are bent backwards over--like some sort of ballet dancer and it takes your breath away, literally.

MONTAGNE: And the storm is headed where now?

JOYCE: It's headed out over the Atlantic. It's going northeast. It's, according to the models that they've shown me, probably not going to make landfall again. It may bring some rough weather and some rain to the Northeast, but they've got it tracking far enough offshore so that people shouldn't be concerned about a hurricane. If there's a good chance of it making landfall anywhere, it might well be Nova Scotia, but other than that, it looks like it's offshore.

MONTAGNE: Well, has it made a difference that it pass--it seems to be passing by awfully fast, if you will, compared to, say, what it did in Cancun and the Yucatan in Mexico.

JOYCE: And that helped to the degree that--as it did in Cancun, by hanging over and lingering, that just inundates people with more rain and more wind damage and it was quite strong in Cancun. So that's been a bit of a blessing in that it's gone quickly, although often when storms go slowly, they lose their power. So this kept its power pretty much all the way across.

MONTAGNE: Now this year has been a record-breaker for hurricanes, 22 so far. Season isn't over yet and they've already run out of the letters in the alphabet that they usually use. They're going to the Greek alphabet from now on if it comes to that. What are they saying there at the National Hurricane Center? Is this a fluke or a trend?

JOYCE: They're saying it's not unusual in that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had predicted that there would be a lot of storms this year. We're in the middle of a cycle, an active cycle in the Atlantic for hurricanes. There have been cycles where there were few hurricanes, as in the '70s and the '80s. We just happen to be in one now that's a very busy one and, in fact, they're telling me here that, while this year set a record, there's quite a--possible it could set a record again next year.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much. That's NPR's Christopher Joyce at the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

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