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Paula becomes a hurricane; long-term path still uncertain

Tropical Storm Paula strengthened into a hurricane early Tuesday and was forecast to remain confined to the western Caribbean for the next five days.

What it will do after that remains unknown, forecasters said. However, it was not expected to pose an immediate to threat to Florida or the U.S. coastline.

“It’s certainly not going to be a well behaved storm; it’s very erratic,” said meteorologist Brad Diehl of the National Weather Service.

Although South Florida should see showers on Tuesday and Wednesday, the result of moisture streaming up from the Caribbean, that rain will have nothing to do with Paula, Diehl added.

“It should have no direct impact on South Florida, whatsoever, at least over the next five days,” he said. “But as you know, things constantly change.”

Central and North Florida, including Orlando, were expected to be mostly sunny this week.

At 5 a.m. EDT on Tuesday, Paula, the 16th named storm of the season and the ninth hurricane, was about 230 miles south-southeast of Cozumel, Mexico, moving northwest at 10 mph with sustained winds of 75 mph.

A turn toward the north-northwest and then toward the north is expected between late Tuesday and early Wednesday, forecasters said.

On the current forecast track, Paula will approach the east coast of the Yucatan Peninsula Tuesday night and Wednesday.

A hurricane warning is in effect for the coast of Mexico from Punta Gruesa northward to Cabo Catoche, including Cozumel.

Tropical storm warnings have been posted for the coast of Honduras; the coast of Mexico from Chetumal northward to south of Punta Gruesa; and the coast of Mexico from Cabo Catoche to San Felipe.

Paula could produce up to 10 inches of rain along its path as well as a strong storm surge.

With Paula, the 2010 storm season moves into the top-six-busiest seasons on record, tied with 1936, 2003 and 2008, all of which also had 16 named storms.

The five busiest seasons on record are 1969, which had 18 storms; 1887 and 1995, both which had 19 storms; 1933, which had 21 storms and 2005, which saw 28 storms.

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