Hurricane Ernesto strengthened as it bore down on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, where it will probably go ashore late today and then move into the Bay of Campeche, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.
Ernesto, the second hurricane of the Atlantic season, had top winds of 85 miles (140 kilometers) per hour, up from 80 mph earlier, and was about 65 miles east of Chetumal, Mexico, moving west-northwest at 18 mph, according to an advisory at 8 p.m. East Coast time.
The current storm track shows Ernesto crossing the peninsula as a tropical storm and entering the bay, where it may again become a hurricane Aug. 9. Mexico’s state-owned Petroleos Mexicanos, the third-largest oil exporter to the U.S., has wells in the bay. Mexico sent 1.05 million barrels a day of crude to the U.S. in the week ended July 27, Energy Department data show.
“It is not uncommon for hurricanes and tropical storms to cross the Yucatan Peninsula and enter the Bay of Campeche in the southern Gulf of Mexico,” Eqecat, a risk-modeling company in Oakland, California, said in an e-mailed report. Previous hurricanes, including Karl in 2010 and Dean in 2007, “are several historical examples of hurricanes from the past decade whose tracks closely match that of Ernesto’s.”
The system may force some Pemex rigs to shut, said Jim Rouiller, a senior energy meteorologist at Planalytics Inc. in Berwyn, Pennsylvania.
Ernesto is a Category 1 storm, the least powerful on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale. Its hurricane-force winds extend about 35 miles from its center and tropical storm-force winds reach out about 140 miles.
“This is not a very strong system,” Rouiller said. “I don’t anticipate much damage at all to the Mexican rigs.”
A hurricane warning has been posted for the east coast of the peninsula from Chetumal to Tulum, for Cozumel and for the coast of Belize from Belize City to the Mexican border. Honduras dropped all its storm warnings and watches.
As much as 12 inches of rain may fall over Belize, the Yucatan and northern Guatemala, creating “dangerous” flash floods and mudslides, the center said. The sea may rise 4 feet above normal tide levels near landfall.
Some computer models predict Ernesto may cross the mountains of Mexico and re-form in the Pacific. The hurricane center said it isn’t ready to forecast that “unusual event.”
In the Pacific, Tropical Storm Gilma strengthened slightly and now has top winds of 45 mph, up from 40 earlier. It is 600 miles south-southwest of the southern tip of Mexico’s Baja California, according to the hurricane center. It is expected to drift farther into the ocean away from land through the course of the week.
To Gilma’s south, the center is tracking an area of disturbed weather that has a 10 percent chance of becoming a tropical system in two days.
In the Atlantic, the hurricane center is watching two other systems, one southwest off the Cape Verde Islands and one between Cape Verde and Barbados. They are given 30 percent and near-zero chances, respectively, of forming into tropical cyclones within 48 hours.
Rouiller said the one closest to Cape Verde has a chance of becoming the season’s seventh storm by next week. The other system is the remnants of Tropical Storm Florence, which is expected to dissipate by week’s end.