(Adds latest wind speed in second paragraph, location.)
Oct. 26 (Bloomberg) -- Hurricane Rina churned across warm waters east of Belize toward Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula today on a path expected to take it away from the major oil regions of the Gulf of Mexico, the National Hurricane Center said
Rina’s sustained winds were at 110 miles (175 kilometers) per hour, just below the 111 mph threshold that would make it a Category 3 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, the center said in an 8 a.m. Miami time advisory.
The NHC forecasts that winds will peak at 115 mph, capable of tearing roofs off houses and crumbling walls. The official track calls for Rina to close in on Cozumel, Mexico, later today and tomorrow on Cancun, then turn northeastward away from the Gulf and skirt northwestern Cuba over the weekend.
Rina “has the potential to become a major hurricane today or tonight,” the center said. “Some weakening is likely after Rina moves near or over the Yucatan peninsula.”
The hurricane is currently about 230 miles south-southeast of Cozumel, heading west at 4 mph. A hurricane warning is in effect for the east coast of the Yucatan from north of Punta Gruesa to the popular resort of Cancun, the NHC said. A tropical storm warning is in effect from Chetumal to Punta Gruesa, and a tropical storm watch for the coast of Belize from Belize City northward and Honduras’s Bay Island of Roatan.
Petroleos Mexicanos, Latin America’s largest oil producer, said port and offshore operations are normal, according to an e- mail sent to Bloomberg News. Kinetic Analysis Corp., which assesses the potential impact of hazards, estimated the storm may shut in 6.51 million barrels a day of oil produced by Pemex.
Weather patterns over the U.S. will help steer the storm away from the Bay of Campeche and the Gulf, where oil and natural gas platforms and rigs are concentrated. The Gulf is home to 27 percent of U.S. oil output and 6.5 percent of natural gas production.
Less than 2 percent of natural gas production in the U.S. Gulf may be shut in for up to five days, Kinetic Analysis said.
The jet stream is much more active over the U.S. at this time of year, and that helps push weather systems “west to east a little bit more,” Joel Widenor, a meteorologist at Commodity Weather Group LLC in Bethesda, Maryland, said yesterday.
In addition, wind shear over the Gulf would tear Rina apart if it drifted north, reducing the hurricane to a loose collection of thunderstorms, he said in a phone interview.
Rina is expected to bring heavy rain to Cozumel and the eastern Yucatan coast though Oct. 28 and then for parts of Cuba, Florida and the Bahamas, said AccuWeather Inc., based in State College, Pennsylvania.
In Mexico, Quintana Roo Governor Roberto Borge Angulo suspended classes from today at schools in six municipalities, according to a statement on the state government’s website. He also banned the sale of alcohol from 6 p.m. today in those areas, which include Benito Juarez, Cancun and the resort islands of Cozumel and Isla Mujeres, popular with Western tourists. He ordered the evacuation of Punta Herrero.
The island of Chinchorro and town of Punta Allen have already been evacuated, according to the state government.
Rina may drop 8 inches to 16 inches (20 to 41 centimeters) of rain across eastern Yucatan starting today, according to the hurricane center. Tides may also rise 5 feet to 7 feet above normal with dangerous storm surf as Rina approaches.
Hurricane-strength winds extend 25 miles from Rina’s core and tropical storm-force winds reach out 115 miles.
--With assistance from Carlos Manuel Rodriguez in Mexico City, Sherry Su and Alex Morales in London and Randall Hackley in Zurich. Editors: Randall Hackley, Paul Gordon
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