The latest forecast from the National Hurricane Center comes with this warning, all the more chilling because of the signature all caps:
DEAN IS LIKELY TO BECOME A CATEGORY FIVE HURRICANE PRIOR TO MAKING LANDFALL.
The deep and warm waters of the western Caribbean Sea will feed the strength of Hurricane Dean, likely catapulting it from a Category 4 behemoth into a Category 5 monster, experts at the National Hurricane Center said in an update at 4:45 p.m. The eastern and western coasts of the Yucatan Peninsula, and all of the east coast of Belize are under hurricane or tropical storm warnings and watches.
Landfall is expected early Tuesday morning, but experts warned "Conditions will begin to deteriorate along the coastline well in advance of the arrival of the center." As it has done as it passed other islands in the region, Hurricane Dean could bring as much as 20 inches over the course of a day or more of storming to any land that it passes. The "extremely dangerous" storm, the first hurricane in what meteorologists expect to be an unusually active storm season, already blamed for several deaths as it blew through the Caribbean over the last several days.
Scientists are conflicted about the role global warming has played in hurricane strength and frequency, with some saying that increased sea temperature has added enough energy to hurricanes to make them more ferocious. Texas declared a preemptive emergency, despite indications the storm would not strike the United States. The storm is racing west -- having moved 225 miles since 5 a.m. As of 5 p.m. (EDT) it was about 270 miles east of Chetumal, Mexico.
Maximum sustained winds are near 150 mph, with higher gusts. Hurricane-force winds are blowing 60 miles from its center, and tropical storm-force winds 175 miles away from its center. Coastal storm surge flooding of five to 11 feet above normal is possible, along with "large and dangerous battering waves," the National Hurricane Center warned. Maximum rainfall in any one area is predicted to be about 20 inches -- enough to cause "life-threatening flash floods and mud slides."
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