Hurricane Rina skulking at Belize’s door
Chief Meteorologist Dennis Gonguez confirmed this evening that “conditions are ripe for the intensification” of Hurricane Rina – the 6th of the 2011 Atlantic Hurricane Season and the 18th named storm – as the cyclone moves on a slow track over a warm pool of water near Belize’s coast.
According to Gonguez, the NHC projects that landfall will occur around midday Thursday between the Belize-Mexico border and Cancun, Mexico, midway on the eastern Yucatan Peninsula. If the storm heads more west, however, landfall will be earlier than Thursday and our region could be more substantially affected, he explained.
This evening, the Government of Belize, through the National Emergency Management Organization (NEMO), jumped the preliminary phase and declared a phase II, Red I hurricane watch for the northern half of Belize, from Belize City to Corozal.
Water taxi operations have also been suspended for tomorrow because of a possible evacuation of San Pedro and Caye Caulker, and shelter provisions are being made at the University of Belize’s auditoriums in Belmopan for evacuees from the islands.
“Keep an eye out. It looks to become a major hurricane tomorrow,” Gonguez warned.
The cyclone is forecast to turn into a major hurricane with winds of 115 to 120 mph (category 3 hurricane) by Wednesday, October 26. It is also possible that it may become a category 4 hurricane, Gonguez also indicated.
As for landfall predictions, Gonguez noted, however, that there is a level of uncertainty since the forecast is for 72 hours.
“The northern districts of Belize lie in the uncertainty cone,” said Gonguez, explaining the decision to advise NEMO to declare the hurricane watch for northern Belize.
The National Hurricane Center (NHC) in Miami said this afternoon that interests in Belize and the east coast of the Yucatán peninsula, as well as the adjacent islands, should monitor the progress of Rina.
About noon local time today, the NHC confirmed that Rina, which got its name as a tropical storm only this morning, had become a hurricane, and that “additional strengthening” is expected.
The announcement came after an Air Force reserve hurricane hunter aircraft signaled that the maximum sustained winds had increased to near 75 mph or 120 km/h.
At press time this evening, Rina was said to be crawling at 3 miles per hour, maintaining its hurricane force winds; and sea surface temperatures of almost 90 degrees are expected to feed its rapid development.
Weather experts say that its winds could exceed 110 miles per hour over the course of the next day.
“That track can be adjusted either north or south,” Gonguez added, explaining that, “we would have a better feel for that on Wednesday morning...by mid-morning on Wednesday.”
The Chief Meteorologist said that Belize may start seeing impacts of storm-related wave action, as well as rains from the outer-bands of the hurricane, tomorrow.
He said that because of warm sea surface temperatures, which encourage cyclone development, the system is expected to continue to strengthen as it continues on this slow path right.
Forecaster Frank Tench indicated to us at around 4:00 this evening that the storm was located about 338 miles from Belize City, on a path just south of east.
There has been some discussion in the public domain of the possibility of Rina looping back into this part of the Caribbean after moving northwards.
Gonguez said he does not want to discuss that possibility yet, since there is still uncertainty over Rina’s track. He did say, though, that on Saturday, Belize may still not be out of the woods.
“During this time of the year,” said Gonguez, “the track forecasts are uncertain over this part of the Western Caribbean, because of transition into winter season, and cold fronts come to influence the system.”
A cold front, he said, is forecast to reach our region around Thursday, and if it does, it would speed up Rina and steer it more northward and away from Belize. If it fails to come, though, the hurricane could continue more westerly, he advised.
Gonguez said that by tomorrow evening, the outer bands of Rina should start to show up on Belize’s Doppler radar, which can see a distance of 250 kilometers.
Based on current projections, said Gonguez, northern Belize could get 2 to 4 inches of rainfall, but more depending on the final track and features of Rina.