for National Geographic News
Daniel Brown, a hurricane specialist at the National Hurricane Center in Miami, said the storms winds could exceed 155 miles (249 kilometers) an hour later today as it continues its trek across the warm Caribbean Sea.
That wind speed would make Dean a Category 5 hurricane—the most powerful type of storm of the Saffir-Simpson scale. Category 5 storms can create storm surges of at least 18 feet (5.4 meters) and cause catastrophic damage on land.
Dean's eye—which contains the most violent winds—made its closest approach to Jamaica on Sunday evening, Brown said. The eye's wall brushed the capital city of Kingston as the storm moved westward offshore.
Nine deaths have been reported since the storm began as a tropical depression on August 13.
As of 6 a.m. eastern standard time Monday, Dean's eye was about 115 miles (185 kilometers) south-southeast of the Cayman Islands in the northwestern Caribbean. The storm was moving westward at about 21 miles (33 kilometers) an hour. (Related: "2007 Hurricane Season Will Be "Very Active," Forecasters Say" [April 3, 2007].)
A hurricane warning has been issued for the Caymans, as well as for Cancún on the east coast of the Yucatán Peninsula. The warning extends southward to Belize City in the Central American country of Belize.
A hurricane warning means that hurricane-force winds of at least 74 miles (119 kilometers) an hour are expected within the next 24 hours.
On Grand Cayman Island, which took a direct hit from the Category 5 Hurricane Ivan in September 2004, residents were taking no chances with Dean.
"We have prepared for the worst and hope for the best," Fred Sambula, director of the Cayman Islands Meteorological Service, told National Geographic News.
SOURCES AND RELATED WEB SITES