Tropical Storm Karl hit Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula today and may threaten oil wells in the western Gulf of Mexico, while Hurricane Igor continues on a course toward Bermuda with Category 4-force winds.
Hurricane Julia, trailing behind Igor, grew today into a Category 4 storm. The only other time in National Hurricane Center records that there were two systems of that magnitude in the Atlantic was on Sept. 16, 1926, said Dennis Feltgen, a center spokesman.
Karl went ashore on Yucatan’s east coast 30 miles (48 kilometers) east-northeast of Chetumal, Mexico, at about 7:45 a.m. local time, according to a special hurricane center advisory. Petroleos Mexicanos, Latin America’s largest oil producer, said it doesn’t foresee any closures at its production facilities in the area because of Karl.
The storm was located 35 miles northwest of Chetumal with top winds of 55 mph at 2 p.m. East Coast time, the hurricane center said.
“It looks like it’s going to move south of the major resort areas so it won’t have a huge impact,” John Cangialosi, a hurricane specialist at the center, said today in a telephone interview. “When it gets to the Gulf, we’re expecting it to re- strengthen and likely become a hurricane. If there are rigs in its path, those operations will be impacted.”
Hurricane Julia is following Igor over the open ocean, meaning the U.S. hurricane center is tracking three storms in the Atlantic and Caribbean. Igor and Julia are forecast to move north in the Atlantic parallel to the U.S. East Coast.
Cancun, Playa del Carmen and Cozumel are all popular beach and diving resorts on Mexico’s so-called Maya Riviera. Continental Airlines Inc. warned on its website that flights to and from Cancun and Belize may be delayed or canceled today. Karl’s tropical storm-force winds reached out up to 45 miles from its center, meteorologists said.
Mexico discontinued a tropical storm warning for eastern Yucatan north of Punta Allen and issued a tropical storm watch for the west coast of the peninsula from Ciudad Del Carmen to Celestun, according to the center.
A tropical storm warning was in place from the Mexico- Belize border northward to Punta Allen, indicating winds of at least 39 mph are expected. The center said as much as 8 inches (20 centimeters) of rain may fall over the Yucatan, Belize and northern Guatemala.
The state of Quintana Roo, which includes Cancun, declared a red alert for the four municipalities of Tulum, Jose M. Morelos, Felipe Carrillo and Othon, according to a bulletin on its website. The Quintana Roo government is restricting marine activity on its coast.
Igor weakened a little over the central Atlantic today, with sustained winds dropping to 135 mph from 155 mph, the hurricane center also said. The center’s forecast map shows Igor coming close to Bermuda’s shores on Sept. 19.
The system was 1,055 miles southeast of Bermuda moving west-northwest at 8 mph, the center said before 11 a.m. East Coast time.
“Right now it is not looking good for Bermuda,” said Meredith Croke, a meteorologist with AirDat LLC in North Carolina, which installs weather-gathering sensors on commercial aircraft. “Igor is going to go pretty close and it doesn’t look like it is going to weaken much.”
Hurricane-force winds of at least 74 mph extend 45 miles from Igor’s center, and tropical storm force winds stretch 225 miles out, according to the advisory. Watches and warnings for the British territory may be issued as early as tomorrow, Bermuda Weather Service forecaster Michelle Pitcher said on the agency’s website.
“As Igor is a very large-in-size storm, I would expect that at the very least we will experience tropical storm conditions this weekend unless there are dramatic changes,” she wrote.
Julia today strengthened into a major hurricane and had top winds of 135 mph just before 11 a.m. East Coast time, the center said. The storm was 595 miles west of the Cape Verde Islands, moving northwest at 15 mph.
Julia isn’t forecast to threaten land in the next five days as it turns north over the central Atlantic, well to the east of Bermuda, according to the hurricane center’s forecast map.
The power of Igor and Julia is a testament to how warm the Atlantic is, said Allan Huffman, an AirDat meteorologist. He also said to have a storm as powerful as Julia that far out in the ocean strikes him as unusual.
The Atlantic has been registering record high temperatures since March, according to U.S. archives.
The current Atlantic season has now produced 11 named storms, two more than all of last year and the average for a typical season, which runs from June to November.
The hurricane center, part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, has predicted that 14 to 20 named storms with winds of at least 39 miles per hour will form this year. It also predicted that 4 to 6 major hurricanes would form and the low end of that forecast has been reached.
“It is actually the fastest we have seen four Category 4 storms form,” said Phil Klotzbach, co-author of Colorado State University’s seasonal hurricane forecast.
The four major storms formed in 20 days and the previous record was 24 days in 1999, he said.
Klotzbach said he expects storm activity to remain above average for the next two weeks.
The U.S. East Coast has been protected from Igor and Julia by a weather trough that kept the storms in the Atlantic, said Jim Rouiller, senior energy meteorologist for Planalytics Inc. in Berwyn, Pennsylvania. After Igor and Julia pass, that system is likely to break up, leaving the U.S. more vulnerable, he said.