By Brian K. Sullivan – Oct 25, 2011 7:27 PM GMT+0100
Hurricane Rina moved over the warm waters of the Caribbean on a track that will take the storm toward Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula resorts and away from the oil- rich regions of the Gulf of Mexico.
Rina’s top sustained winds were 105 miles (169 kilometers) per hour as it churned west-northwest at 3 mph, about 290 miles southeast of Tulum, Mexico, according to a U.S. National Hurricane Center advisory at 2 p.m. East Coast time.
Hurricane warnings have been posted on the east coast of the peninsula from north of Punta Gruesa to Cancun.
“Rina is expected to become a major hurricane by tonight,” the center said. “Preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion.”
The center forecasts that Rina’s top winds will peak at 120 mph, or Category 3 on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, capable of tearing roofs off houses and crumbling walls. The official track calls for the storm to close in on Cozumel and Cancun in two days before turning away from the Gulf and striking western Cuba.
Petroleos Mexicanos, Latin America’s largest oil producer, said port and offshore operations are normal as it monitors Rina’s path, according to an e-mail sent to Bloomberg News. Kinetic Analysis Corp., which assesses the potential impact of hazards, estimated the storm may shut in 6.6 million barrels a day of oil produced by Pemex.
“Generally, we’re seeing three-day downtime on facilities, from evacuations and those types of things,” Steven Stichter, Kinetic Analysis’s chief operating officer, said in a telephone interview. “But clearly, given the current storm, there’s also going to be some damage associated with that. You’re going to get some 30-day production shut-in from actual damage.”
Weather patterns over the U.S. will help steer the storm away from the Bay of Campeche and the Gulf, where oil and natural gas platforms and rigs are concentrated. The Gulf is home to 27 percent of U.S. oil output and 6.5 percent of natural gas production.
The Jet Stream is much more active over the U.S. at this time of year, and that helps push weather systems “west to east a little bit more,” said Joel Widenor, a meteorologist at Commodity Weather Group LLC in Bethesda, Maryland.
In addition, wind shear over the Gulf would tear Rina apart if it drifted north, reducing the hurricane to a loose collection of thunderstorms, he said in a telephone interview.
While Rina is expected to mean heavy rain for parts of Florida, Cuba and the Bahamas, “it’s very questionable if the center of the storm will make it much farther north than the Yucatan Channel,” Dan Kottlowski, a tropical weather expert for AccuWeather Inc., said on the website of the State College, Pennsylvania-based forecaster.
Mexico has readied 1,130 storm shelters in the state of Quintana Roo, which includes Cancun and Cozumel, a resort island off the Mexican coast.
Rina may drop 8 inches to 16 inches (20 to 41 centimeters) of rain across the eastern Yucatan Peninsula starting tomorrow, according to the center. Atlantic tides may also rise 5 feet to 7 feet above normal as Rina approaches.
In addition to the hurricane warning, which means winds of at least 74 mph are possible within 36 hours, a tropical storm warning is in place for the Mexican coast from Chetumal to Punta Gruesa and for the coast of Belize from Belize City to the north, the center said. Hurricane-strength winds of at least 74 mph extend 15 miles from Rina’s core and tropical storm-force winds reach out 115 miles.
The hurricane center is also tracking an area of disturbed weather off the coast of Venezuela that has a 20 percent chance of becoming a tropical system in the next two days.