Hurricane Wilma 2? Experts say Rina won't pack the same punch

It's late October, and a storm is brewing off the Yucatán Peninsula.

Sound familiar?

Hurricane Rina is cranking up in the same spot in the Caribbean within a week of the day in 2005 that Southwest Florida's last big hurricane season strike sprang to life.

This time around, muddled steering currents and less favorable conditions for hurricane development in the Gulf of Mexico mean Rina doesn't look poised to become Hurricane Wilma II, meteorologists said Monday.

"You can't compare apples and oranges," National Hurricane Center meteorologist and spokesman Dennis Feltgen said.

Tropical Storm Wilma was named Oct. 17, 2005, off the Yucatán Peninsula, after wandering around as a tropical depression for a couple days. A week later — six years ago Monday — Wilma hit south of Marco Island as a Category 3 hurricane.

At one point, Wilma had the lowest barometric pressure of any storm in history and had almost perfect atmospheric conditions and warm ocean temperatures to fuel it, said Jeff Masters, director of meteorology for the online weather service Weather Underground.

Ocean temperatures are about the same for Rina as they were for Wilma, but smaller Rina is facing drier air and higher wind shear, Masters said.

"This is not a Wilma," he said.

Still, Monday's sudden strengthening from tropical storm to hurricane status changes the comparison game a bit. Rita was about 195 miles southwest of Grand Cayman Monday evening with maximum wind speeds of about 75 mph.

A stronger storm has a better chance of riding steering currents that would take it further north, and closer to Southwest Florida, as it makes an expected turn east later this week, Masters said.

He said the storm might make it to the Florida Keys or extreme southern Southwest Florida as a tropical storm.

ABC-7 meteorologist Jim Reif said he remembers watching in 2005 as unwavering computer models showed Wilma making a beeline for Collier and Lee counties.

That is not the case for Rina, which forecast models show headed all over the map, he said.

"If it tried to come to Florida, it would get torn apart," Reif said Monday, before Rina reached hurricane strength.

Between Oct. 18 and Oct. 19, Wilma took less than 24 hours to explode from a tropical storm into a Category 5 monster hurricane with 172 mph winds.

"This storm (Rina) will be nowhere near that caliber," Feltgen said Monday, before Rina became a hurricane.

Wilma was still a Category 4 storm, with winds near 150 mph, when it made landfall Oct. 21 at Cozumel, crossed into the Gulf of Mexico and set its sights on Southwest Florida. On the morning of Oct. 24, Wilma made landfall at Cape Romano with winds about 121 mph.

The storm moved quickly, crossing Florida in less than five hours and emerging into the Atlantic Ocean southeast of Jupiter.

Wilma was blamed for killing 23 people, including five in Florida, and knocking out power in 42 Florida counties.

The storm is estimated to have caused $21 billion in damage in the United States, making it the third costliest hurricane in U.S. history, behind Katrina and Andrew.

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