Wilma has now reached hurricane strength and is in position to forecast further. The latest advisory is reporting a central pressure of 975 mb with sustained winds of 80 mph. This makes Wilma a Category 1 hurricane.
A Tropical Storm Warning is in effect for eastern Honduras and a Hurricane Watch and Tropical Storm Warning remain in effect for the Cayman Islands. Now that Wilma has turned northwest, I am becoming increasingly more confident in the forecast track. Wilma is currently moving towards the northwest near 7 mph. This track is in line to pass Wilma directly through the Yucatan Gap and into the Gulf of Mexico
Recent model trends have been coming in line with my intuitions about the storm. I fully expect Wilma to pass through the Yucatan Gap and head for Florida. Those of you on the west coast of Florida should begin planning now. Please be prepared for a hurricane landfall as early as Saturday. However, before Wilma reaches Florida, Cuba and possibly the Yucatan could take a thrashing.
Continued strengthening is expected as Wilma continues to move over warm water and wind shear should remain low. Once Wilma develops an eye, very rapid intensification is possible.
While in the Caribbean, there is still plenty of energy available to allow a major hurricane to develop. As you can see in the Tropical Cyclone Heat Potential (TCHP) chart below, the Gulf is still primed for intensification. Wilma is now moving into an area of very high oceanic heat content.
Although there is a significant decrease in available energy to the north, the Gulf would still be capable of supporting a major hurricane. (The hurricane would just not be as strong.) The Loop Current in the Gulf shows up especially well and could easilly support a major hurricane moving towards Florida.
As is shown below, the northern half of the Gulf is not capable of supporting a Category 5 hurricane any more this year. It seems like even a Category 4 may be a stretch at this point. However, a major Category 3, as Ivan and Katrina were (we can argue about this one later), could cause severe damage. In contast, the southern Gulf waters are still very much capable of supporting a Category 5 storm.