A record-breaking storm in the Caribbean Sea may strike Florida this weekend. Hurricane Wilma has strengthened faster than any other hurricane in recorded history and is headed for Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula.
Forecasters says Hurricane Wilma, now in the northwestern Caribbean Sea, is an extremely dangerous storm. For a brief period on Wednesday, it had the highest winds and lowest barometric pressure ever reported in an Atlantic Ocean hurricane.
Computer prediction models agree that Wilma will brush the tip of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula before turning towards the northeast. But they disagree over whether Wilma will then linger over western Cuba or head towards south Florida and the Florida Keys.
Max Mayfield, director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami, urged people not to become complacent because of uncertainty about the storm's path and the timing of its movements.
"This is a Category 5 hurricane and still one of the lowest pressures ever in a hurricane in the whole Atlantic basin since records have been kept," he said. "So no, you don't want to let you guard down, especially if it does start moving faster."
Forecasters say Hurricane Wilma could dump as much as 65 centimeters of rain over Cuba, and half that much in the Cayman Islands, Swan Island, Jamaica, Honduras and the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico.
In Florida, Emergency Management Director Craig Fugate said the state's Emergency Operations Center was activated on Wednesday afternoon.
"Although there's still some uncertainty of whether this storm may ultimately make landfall, it is still forecast to come towards Florida," he noted. "Our primary area of threat is really the South Florida area, the Florida Keys, both coasts."
Tourists were already being encouraged to leave the Keys, at the southern tip of the Florida peninsula. Wilma is the 21st Atlantic storm this year, tying an all-time record.