Hurricane Paloma has continued its rapid intensification this evening, and is now a major hurricane with Category 3 sustained winds of 115 mph as it passes Grand Cayman Island, approaches Cayman Brac and Little Cayman, and menaces Cuba.
Paloma’s right-front quadrant, where the strongest winds are located, is expected to make a direct hit on Cayman Brac and Little Cayman tomorrow morning. It is possible the storm will be even a little stronger by then. Storm Carib has coverage from a local perspective. See also Cayman Net News and the Cay Compass.
Here’s a look at the impressive storm on satellite:
Paloma’s eventual impact on Cuba remains uncertain. Certainly, the storm will weaken before it reaches that island, as wind shear is expected to markedly increase shortly after Paloma passes the Caymans. By this time tomorrow, Paloma will definitely be less organized than it is now.
That said, the extent of pre-landfall weakening — if in fact there is a Cuba landfall — is a question mark, as is the storm’s track. The National Hurricane Center’s 10pm EST discussion explains the divergent track scenarios in the computer models:
AS HAS BEEN THE CASE FOR THE PAST 36 HOURS…THERE REMAINS A BIFURCATION IN THE NHC MODEL SUITE WITH THE UKMET…ECMWF…AND NOGAPS MODELS RAPIDLY WEAKENING PALOMA AND TURNING IT WESTWARD SOUTH OF CUBA BY 36 TO 48 HOURS…WHEREAS THE GFS…GFDL…AND HWRF MODELS MOVE A SOMEWHAT STRONGER CYCLONE ACROSS CUBA AND INTO THE CENTRAL BAHAMAS. BASED ON THE CURRENT SATELLITE TRENDS AND REPORT FROM RECON AIRCRAFT…THE OFFICIAL FORECAST TRACK LEANS TOWARD THE GFS…GFDL…AND HWRF SOLUTIONS…ALBEIT SOMEWHAT SLOWER.
In other words, the NHC is guessing that Paloma will hit Cuba early Sunday morning as a weakening hurricane (probably Category 1), but it’s really just that — a guess, albeit an educated one. Forecasters just aren’t sure what Paloma is going to do beyond the Caymans.