Hurricane Rina, the seventeenth named storm and sixth hurricane of the 2011 Atlantic hurricane season, is currently located approximately 115 miles (190 kilometers) south of Cozumel in Mexico and around 95 miles (150 kilometers) east-northeast of Chetumal, according to the National Hurricane Center (NHC). The storm has unexpectedly weakened over the last 18 hours and currently packs sustained winds of around 75 mph (120 kmph), equivalent to a weak category 1 hurricane. The NHC says there is a 22 percent chance of Rina maintaining its hurricane status over the next 24 hours. The storm is currently approaching Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula and forecasts indicate it will pass over or near Cozumel Island and Cancun later today.
According to the NHC, Rina is currently traveling in a northwesterly direction at approximately 6 mph (9 kmph). A turn to the north with a slight increase in forward speed is expected today, followed by a turn toward the northeast on October 28. On this forecast track, the center of Rina is expected to pass over or near the east coast of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, affecting the Mexican state of Quintana Roo and eastern Yucatan, according to the NHC. Rina is expected to weaken into a tropical storm as it moves near or over the Yucatan Peninsula, the NHC added. Rina is a relatively small storm, with hurricane force winds extending 15 miles (30 kilometers) from the center and tropical storm force winds extending 85 miles (140 kilometers).
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Warnings and Alerts
A hurricane warning remains in effect for the northeast coast of the Yucatan Peninsula from north of Punta Gruesa to San Felipe. A tropical storm warning has also been issued for regions to the north and south of the hurricane warning area. The NHC emphasised that preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion in the warning areas.
Tropical storm conditions are already occurring in along parts of the Yucatan Peninsula coast and hurricane conditions could hit communities within the hurricane warning area later today. The NHC said Rina is expected to bring up to 10 inches (255 millimeters) of rain over the eastern Yucatan Peninsula and Cozumel for the next 24 hours. Storm surge alerts have also been issued, with the NHC warning of surges up to 4 feet (1.2 meters) above normal tide levels along the immediate coast near and to the right of Rina’s center. The NHC added that the surge will be accompanied by large, destructive and dangerous waves.
Forecasters expect Rina to track to the north today before taking a turn to the northeast tomorrow. The storm’s forward speed is expected to increase slightly during this time. The latest NHC forecast indicates that Rina will pass over or near the east coast of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, with the tourist resorts of Tulum, Playa del Carmen, Cozumel and Cancun in the path of the storm. However, forecasters expect the storm to lose more force as it approaches the Yucatan Peninsula because of dry air and increased wind shear and be downgraded to a tropical storm before it crosses the Mexican coastline. However, the NHC says there is still a 22 percent chance of Rina maintaining its hurricane status over the next 24 hours.
Rina is expected to exit the northeastern coast of the Yucatan Peninsula as a tropical storm on October 28. The long term NHC forecast has Rina weakening further while making a progressive turn to the east before taking a sharp turn to the south and dissipating in waters between Mexico and Cuba. Although there is considerable uncertainty concerning Rina’s exact path, reports say that most of the long range computer forecasts currently do not expect the storm to threaten energy installations in the Gulf of Mexico or affect southern Florida.
Preparations in Mexico
According to reports, around 50,000 people have been evacuated from coastal communities vulnerable to Rina’s severe weather and destructive waves. Officials said 275 residents from the fishing village of Punta Allen, just south of the hurricane’s projected landfall, were taken to emergency shelters at a nearby school. Around 2,800 people were also evacuated from low-lying Holbox Island. Elsewhere in Quintana Roo State, around 1,100 shelters were being prepared for up to 200,000 people.
Mexico’s top beach resorts scattered along the Yucatan Peninsula, including Cancun, have also been preparing for Rina’s arrival. Homes and businesses there have been boarded up here and hurricane shelters have also been opened. According to the State Tourism Director of Quintana Roo, there are 83,000 tourists in the state, with about 28,000 of them in Cancun and 45,000 more on the stretch of coast south of Cancun that includes Tulum and Playa de Carmen. An estimated 10,000 tourists had left by Wednesday night, according to officials. The U.S. State Department has also warned any nationals living in or on holiday in the area to prepare for the storm and to consider making plans to leave Mexico before flights become disrupted. Reports said Cancun’s airport remains open, but more than 90 flights in and out of the city have been cancelled.
Sources: National Hurricane Center, WSI, Agence France Presse, Associated Press, Reuters News, Xinhua News Agency
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