How Hurricane Wilma Bounced Back to Batter Florida

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"It stayed near the coast and kept a large part of its circulation intact," Blackwell said. "It came off the Yucatán very well organized."

Initial forecasts by the National Hurricane Center in Miami, Florida, predicted that Wilma would come ashore in Florida as a Category Two hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale. The scale ranks hurricanes from one to five, according to wind speeds and destructive potential.

A Category Two hurricane has winds of 96 to 110 miles an hour (155 to 177 kilometers an hour).

But Wilma was actually gaining strength when it reached Florida, said Jack Beven, a hurricane specialist with the National Hurricane Center. The hurricane's winds of 125 miles (201 kilometers) an hour made it a Category Three hurricane.

Deflecting a Jet Stream

Beven said a seasonal jet stream moving south could have prevented Wilma from strengthening, but the strong winds did not affect the hurricane after all.

Blackwell, of the Coastal Weather Research Center, said Wilma was strong enough to repel the jet stream's winds.

Two of Wilma's characteristics made it typical of storms that often form in October, Blackwell said.

First, it formed in the Caribbean, where the water is still warm enough at this time of year to stoke hurricanes. And its encounter with the seasonal jet stream near the Gulf of Mexico turned it into a fast-moving storm—something that often happens to October hurricanes, he said.

Unusual Aftermath

Hurricane Wilma's aftermath in Florida, however, was unusual.

Often a hurricane leaves behind stiflingly hot, humid weather that puts tempers on edge. But a cold front followed right behind Wilma's departure.

Kleinberg, the Palm Beach Post reporter, said that, aside from not having electricity, conditions in South Florida today are "really quite pleasant."

"The county emergency management people are handing out water and ice, and the nice weather is keeping tempers down," he said.

Willie Drye is the author of Storm of the Century: The Labor Day Hurricane of 1935, published by National Geographic Books.

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