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Hurricane Rina Strengthens on Course Toward Mexico’s Yucatan

Hurricane Rina strengthened to a Category 2 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale as it churned over Caribbean waters toward resorts on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, the National Hurricane Center said.

Rina’s top winds are 100 miles (160 kilometers) per hour, up from 80 mph earlier, according to an NHC website advisory at 8 a.m. Miami time. It’s the sixth hurricane of the 2011 Atlantic storm season that runs from June through November.

“Additional strengthening is forecast during the next day or so” as the storm spins over warm waters off the north coast of Honduras, the center said. Rina may become a major storm later today or tomorrow, the NHC said.

Mexico issued a hurricane watch from north of Punta Gruesa to Cancun, which means hurricane conditions are possible within the area and readied 1,130 storm shelters in the state of Quintana Roo, which includes Cancun and Cozumel. The country also declared a tropical storm watch for the east coast of the Yucatan from Chetumal to Punta Gruesa, the NHC said.

Matt Rogers, president of Commodity Weather Group LLC in Bethesda, Maryland, said Rina won’t be a threat to Gulf of Mexico oil and gas production. Kinetic Analysis Corp. estimated the storm may shut in 6.69 million barrels of oil produced by state-owned Petroleos Mexicanos, Latin America’s largest oil producer.

Rina Nearing Resorts

Rina is forecast to approach Cancun in two days, then curve east toward the west tip of Cuba by the weekend, the NHC’s tracking maps show. The system is about 305 miles east-southeast of Chetumal, moving west-northwest at 3 mph. Rains of up to 4 inches are forecast for the Cayman Islands.

The center forecasts Rina’s winds at it nears the Yucatan’s east coast may strengthen to at least 120 mph, a Category 3 storm with the power to snap trees, blow down poorly built homes and create a “high risk of injury or death to people, livestock and pets due to flying and falling debris.”

Hurricane-force winds of at least 74 mph extend 15 miles from its core and tropical storm-force winds of 39 mph or more reach out 115 miles, the NHC said.

The center is also monitoring a low-pressure system north of Curacao and Bonaire that’s producing thunderstorms over the south-central Caribbean. The system has a 30 percent chance of forming into a tropical cyclone within two days, it said.

The Atlantic hurricane season is closely watched by the energy industry because of the potential impact on oil and natural-gas production areas, including those in the Gulf of Mexico. Florida is the biggest orange grower after Brazil.

Rina is the 17th named storm this year, which makes 2011 the seventh most-active season since record-keeping began in 1851, Jeff Masters, co-founder of Weather Underground Inc. in Ann Arbor, Michigan, wrote yesterday.

There were 19 named storms last year, while 2005 had the most with 28, including Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans.

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