Floridians prepare for Wilma, “most intense” Atlantic storm ever

Hurricane Wilma, which two days ago was a tiny tropical depression in the Caribbean Sea, is now a Category 5 hurricane headed for Florida, and residents aren’t taking chances this time.

At 8 a.m. the hurricane packed intense 175 mph winds and central pressure of 882 mb, the lowest ever measured.

However, forecasters at the National Hurricane Center believe the storm will lose strength before making landfall. Even so, “All interests in the Florida Keys and the Florida peninsula should closely monitor the progress of extremely dangerous Hurricane Wilma,” said National Hurricane Center forecaster Dr. Lixion Avila.

Centered about 340 miles southeast of Cozumel, Mexico, at 8 a.m., the storm is moving west-northwest at about 8 mph and is expected to turn to the northwest, and then to the north. By the weekend, as Wilma enters the Gulf of Mexico, forecasters expect the storm to weaken and turn to the northeast, threatening the Florida peninsula.

Residents seem to have taken something away from the experience of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and are actually preparing. “People have learned their lesson and know better how to prepare. We’re not waiting until the last minute anymore,” Andrea Yerger, 48, of Port Charlotte, Fla., told the Associated Press.

Forecasters did not expect Wilma to impact any of the areas devastated by Hurricane Katrina and Rita earlier this year. Landfall is expected on the southwest coast of Florida. In addition, the hurricane is expected to be moving quickly at that time, meaning it may not weaken much over land, bringing high winds to the southeastern part of the state as well.

Authorities have begun a mandatory evacuation of tourists from the Florida Keys.

Hurricane season ends Nov. 30, and because all of the names reserved for hurricanes this season have now been used, any further tropical storms will be named after Greek letters.