America
is bracing itself for another hurricane which could be the worst ever.
Hurricane Wilma has already earned the dubious honour as the most powerful hurricane on record in the Atlantic Basin. And as the storm made its way over the Caribbean, 13 deaths
have already been blamed on Wilma, including a man who drowned on
Wednesday while trying to cross a river that overflowed its banks in
southern Haiti.

Within barely 24 hours, Wilma astonished
meteorologists by strengthening from a routine tropical storm into a
category 5 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of almost 175 miles
per hour. At its strongest, Wilma is reaching speeds of about 210 mph,
reports The Times
– and its central pressure of 882 millibars is an Atlantic hurricane
record, 6 millibars lower than the previous record held by Hurricane
Gilbert, which ripped through the Caribbean in 1988. As it escalated to
a category 5, Wilma’s core pressure plunged 86 millibars in only 12
hours, the greatest storm intensification on record.

Hurricane
Wilma looks “set to provide a fitting finale to what has already been a
record Atlantic storm season,” says Rupert Cornwell inThe Independent.
The storm-battered Gulf of Mexico is preparing for the latest onslaught
as Wilma gathers force in the Caribbean, its sights set on the Yucatan
peninsula and western Cuba “before probably aiming for southern Florida
at the weekend.”

Governor Jeb Bush said Floridians must be thinking,
“Why us? … It’s just something we’re going to have to live with and
prepare for.” Certainly after the unexpected havoc wreaked by Katrina,
Floridians have been quick to up stumps.

But
there’s more than a hint of hurricane fatigue in the air. And little
wonder. Wilma is the 12th hurricane of the Atlantic season. That means
that 2005 will tie with 1969 as the worst since records began in 1851.

The hurricane’s path can be tracked via Google mapping, while forecasts of the storm’s path and strength can be found at the American National Hurricane Centre.

Peter Fray

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