Hurricane Paloma strengthened to an extremely intense Category 4 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 140 mph as it passed near Cayman Brac and Little Cayman early this morning. Damage on those islands will presumably have been severe. Storm Carib will have damage reports as they come in; see specifically here.
The National Hurricane Center’s 10am EST discussion suggests that Paloma may have peaked at an intensity even stronger than 140 mph sometime between 5:30 AM (when it was upgraded to Cat. 4, with 135mph winds) and 10:00 AM. Now, it is expected to begin slowly decreasing in strength:
RADAR FROM CAMAGUEY AND REPORTS FROM THE AIR FORCE RESERVE SUGGEST THAT PALOMA IS STARTING AN EYEWALL REPLACEMENT CYCLE WITH CONCENTRIC EYEWALLS NOTED. THIS STRUCTURE…COMBINED WITH SHEAR THAT IS LIKELY TO INCREASE TODAY…SUGGESTS THAT SLOW WEAKENING IS LIKELY.
Now the storm is headed for Cuba, and despite the expected weakening, the latest forecasts indicate it will probably still be a major hurricane (Cat. 3 or above) at landfall overnight tonight or early tomorrow morning. The NHC notes that ”EXCEPTIONALLY HIGH STORM SURGE VALUES OVER 20 FEET ARE POSSIBLE ALONG THE SOUTH COAST OF CUBA IN THE GULF OF GUACANAYABO DUE TO THE TRACK AND INTENSITY OF PALOMA.”
Rapid weakening is expected after landfall in Cuba, as the combined effects of wind shear and land interaction take their toll.
Finally, an interesting bit of trivia: Paloma is currently “TIED FOR THE SECOND STRONGEST ATLANTIC HURRICANE EVER NOTED IN NOVEMBER…THE STRONGEST BEING LENNY IN 1999.” Given the suggestion that Paloma may have gotten stronger than 140 mph at some point this morning, it is possible Paloma will take sole possession of second place when the NHC produces the post-season storm verification report. (It is unlikely to surpass Lenny, which had 155 mph winds.)
UPDATE: Dr. Jeff Masters has a full update.