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Hurricane Paula moves toward Cuba

Forecasters expect storm to stay south of Florida but heavy rain is possible.

MIAMI | October 12, 2010

Hurricane Paula strengthened into a category two storm in the northwestern Caribbean Tuesday afternoon, forecasters said, warning that the storm will likely take aim at Cuba.

The Miami-based National Hurricane Center upgraded the hurricane after an Air Force Hurricane Hunter plane had entered the eye of Paula and encountered stronger winds than previously forecast.

As of 4 p.m. CDT (2100 GMT), the center of Paula was located about 175 kilometers (105 miles) south-southeast of Cozumel, an island in the Caribbean Sea off the eastern coast of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. It is moving toward the north-northwest near 15 kilometers (9 miles) per hour.

"A turn to the north is expected tonight and Wednesday," said Lixion Avila, a senior hurricane specialist at the National Hurricane Center. "On this track the core of Paula should reach the Yucatan Channel on Wednesday and be over Western Cuba Wednesday night or early Thursday."

After it became clear on Tuesday that the storm will most likely take an aim for Cuba and make landfall there, forecasters issued a hurricane warning for the Cuban province of Pinar Del Rio.

A hurricane warning is also in effect for the coast of Mexico from Punta Gruesa northward to Cabo Catoche, including Cozumel. Additionally, a tropical storm warning is in effect for the coast of Mexico from Cabo Catoche to San Felipe.

According to Avila, data from the Air Force Hurricane Hunter plane showed that Paula's maximum sustained winds have increased to near 160 kilometers (100 miles) per hour, with higher gusts. "Paula is a category two hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson hurricane wind scale," he said. "Some slight strengthening is possible today and Wednesday, but a gradual weakening should begin thereafter."

However, Paula is an extremely small storm with hurricane winds extending outwards up to 30 kilometers (15 miles) from the center. Tropical storm winds extend outward up to 95 kilometers (60 miles).

"Tropical storm force winds are expected to reach the coast within the hurricane warning area in Mexico by tonight, with hurricane conditions expected by early Wednesday," Avila said. "Conditions should begin to deteriorate over extreme Western Cuba late Wednesday."

Paula is expected to produce total rain accumulations of 3 to 6 inches over eastern portions of the Yucatan Peninsula, and portions of western and central Cuba. Isolated maximum amounts of 10 inches are possible, Avila said. "In areas of mountainous terrain over central and western Cuba, these rainfall amounts could cause life-threatening flash floods and mudslides."

Avila said the hurricane is expected to produce minor coastal flooding along the east coast of the Yucatan Peninsula. "Over extreme western Cuba, storm surge will raise water levels by as much as 4 to 6 feet above normal tide levels along the immediate coast in areas of onshore flow," he said. "The surge will be accompanied by large and destructive waves."

(Copyright 2010 by BNO News B.V. All rights reserved.)

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