for National Geographic News
A slow-moving and unpredictable Hurricane Wilma began pounding Mexico this morning with winds of 145 miles an hour (233 kilometers an hour).
"As it stands now, there will be a significant impact from this system over the northeastern coast of the Yucatán Peninsula," said Dave Roberts, a U.S. Navy forecaster at the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
Keith Blackwell, hurricane researcher at the University of South Alabama's Coastal Weather Research Center, said the storm will stall over the peninsula for a day or more.
That stalling will cause massive damage and allow the storm to dump as much as 30 inches (76 centimeters) of rain on the peninsula, he said.
The resort cities of Cozumel and Cancun will be "pounded" by the lingering hurricane, Blackwell said.
A few days ago, Hurricane Wilma was expected to strike Florida sometime this weekend, but the storm's movement slowed dramatically as it churned through the Caribbean Sea. Forecasters now think the hurricane may reach Florida sometime late next Monday or early Tuesday.
Roberts said forecasters are uncertain about how Hurricane Wilma will be affected by weather fronts moving over North America. These systems could slow the hurricane's movement or speed it up.
"[The hurricane has] been very inconsistent," he said.
On Wednesday, Hurricane Wilma became the most powerful hurricane ever to form in the Atlantic Ocean when its strongest winds reached 175 miles an hour (282 kilometers an hour) and its barometric pressure fell to 26.09 inches, or 882 millibars.
Extremely powerful hurricanes, such as Wilma, can rearrange the atmosphere around them and alter "steering" wind currents that might have affected a weaker storm, Blackwell said.
"This has allowed the storm to move farther west and to Yucatán instead of directly into the Gulf of Mexico," Blackwell said. "That's having huge implications on the ultimate landfall in Florida because in all likelihood it'll be a much weaker storm."
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