WILLEMSTAD, Curacao (Reuters) - Hurricane Felix intensified at an alarming rate on Sunday while passing north of Aruba and was expected to become an extremely dangerous Category 5 storm as it brushed Central America and neared Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, U.S. forecasters said.
On a similar though more southerly track toward the Yucatan as last month’s powerful Hurricane Dean, which killed 27 people, Felix’s top sustained winds had increased to 140 mph (220 km per hour) by 5 p.m. EDT, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.
That made the second hurricane of the 2007 Atlantic storm season, located around 440 miles southeast of the Jamaican capital, Kingston, a Category 4, or “major” hurricane capable of causing extensive damage.
Forecasters at the Miami-based hurricane center said the storm was strengthening at one of the fastest rates seen, as measured by the drop in its minimum internal pressure.
It would be passing over a warm eddy of water in the central Caribbean, finding in it the fuel needed to intensify further within 36 hours into a rare and potentially catastrophic Category 5 hurricane with winds over 155 mph (249 kph).
“The official intensity forecast could be conservative and there is certainly the potential for us to have another Category Five hurricane on our hands before all is said and done,” said hurricane center storm expert Richard Pasch.
Hurricane Dean in mid-August became a Category 5 on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale before slamming into the Yucatan.
Such strong hurricanes have been rare in the past. Before the devastating 2005 hurricane season, only two years had seen more than one Category 5 hurricane. The 2005 season experienced four, including Katrina, Rita and Wilma.