7 pm Update: Major Hurricane Paloma made landfall near Santa Cruz del Sur, Cuba, around 6:20 pm as a strong Category 3 storm with maximum winds of 125 mph. Winds have now decreased to 120 mph, and further weakening is expected over the next couple of days.
4 pm Update: As of 4 pm, maximum winds have increased to 145 mph, making Paloma the second strongest Atlantic hurricane in November. Little decrease in strength is expected before landfall.
Major Hurricane Paloma has intensified to Category 4, with maximum winds of 140 mph. Paloma is now tied for the second strongest November hurricane in the Atlantic basin. The strongest was Hurricane Lenny of 1999, which reached maximum sustained winds of 155 mph. Hurricane Michelle, which followed a very similar track in 2001, also had peak winds of 140 mph in November, although that storm formed in the last few days of October. Also tied for second place is Hurricane Greta of 1956.
Jeff Masters notes in his blog that this is the first time in history that major hurricanes have occurred in 5 separate months of the same season: Bertha (July), Gustav (August), Ike (September), Omar (October), Paloma (November). The only other season with as many as 4 was the notorious 2005 of Katrina and friends.
Some weakening is likely in the short term, but Paloma is expected to make landfall on the southern coast of central Cuba as a major hurricane. Hurricane Warnings continue in effect for the southern and northern coasts of central Cuba. After making landfall tonight and crossing Cuba, the storm is forecast to weaken and stall south of the Bahamas.
At 1 pm, Paloma was centered about 65 miles southwest of Santa Cruz del Sur, Cuba, moving east northeast at 9 mph. This track is expected to continue through Sunday with some decrease in forward speed after landfall.
Images: Radar from Instituto de Meteorologia de Cuba, Infrared satellite view from NOAA, Paloma forecast track from National Hurricane Center, Lenny and Michelle tracks from NOAA Coastal Services Center
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