All of the major weather models on Wednesday predicted that Hurricane Wilma, the strongest Atlantic hurricane in terms of barometric pressure ever recorded, would strike Florida later this week.
The weather models show the storm moving northwest across the Caribbean Sea to the waters between Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula and western Cuba, where it is projected to enter the Gulf of Mexico and turn northeast toward the south-central Gulf Coast of Florida.
Wilma will probably spare the U.S. oil and natural gas rigs and refineries on the Gulf of Mexico which had been badly battered by hurricanes Katrina and Rita in late August and September.
Earlier Wednesday, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said Wilma's barometric pressure of 882 millibars was the lowest ever recorded in the Atlantic. That is the lowest since Hurricane Gilbert registered an 888-millibar reading in 1988. The lower the barometric pressure, the more powerful the storm.
In an advisory at 11 a.m. EDT (1500 GMT), the NHC said the storm's maximum sustained winds were near 175 mph, with higher gusts, making Wilma a potentially catastrophic Category 5 storm (winds above 155 mph) on the Saffir-Simpson scale.
The NHC expects the storm to weaken to a Category 4 (winds 131-155 mph) or Category 3 (winds 111-130 mph) storm once it enters the Gulf of Mexico over the next 48 to 72 hours. The NHC said the center of the storm was located about 325 miles southeast of Cozumel, Mexico, the Reuters reports.