Hurricane Ike intensified rapidly Saturday afternoon into a very dangerous Category 4 major hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 155 mph.
Importantly for the Cayman Islands, Ike also continued heading west-southwest instead of shifting more westward as had been expected. As a result, the National Hurricane Center in Miami shifted its official forecast track south, with the expectation that Ike would make landfall in northeast Cuba, traverse a long section of the country, and then exit into the Gulf of Mexico a little east of Havana.
Based on the new forecast track, the centre of Ike would come within 148 miles of Cayman Brac Monday evening around 5:30 and within 160 miles of Little Cayman about 7pm.
The National Hurricane Center estimated there was a 40 to 50 per cent probability the Sister Islands would feel tropical storm force winds from Ike.
Should the National Hurricane’s track for Ike occur, the storm would pass closest to Grand Cayman around 1:30 Tuesday morning, with the centre being about 215 miles away.
As of 4pm Saturday, Ike was about 90 miles east of Grand Turk Island, heading west-southwest at 15 mph. Tropical storm force winds extended outward up to 140 miles from center.
Ike is expected assume a more westerly track Sunday and eventually head northwest or west-northwest.
However, some computer guidance models predict Ike to maintain a southern element to its track long enough to cross Cuba and enter the northwest Caribbean Sea. Although none of the major computer models show Ike’s centre coming as far south as the Sister Islands, if it did cross Cuba, the Cayman Islands would feel a greater impact from the storm.
The Cayman Islands National Weather Service’s current forecast calls for winds out of the west at 10 to 15 knots (11 – 17 mph) on Monday, with higher gusts. Seas are expected to be three to five feet.
Tuesday’s forecast calls for winds out the southwest at 20 to 25 knots (23 to 28 mph) and higher gusts, with waves at six to nine feet and scattered heavy thunder showers.
The National Weather Service and Hazard Management Cayman Islands issued a statement early Saturday afternoon saying it was closely monitoring the progress of Hurricane Ike and that it would issue further bulletins later in the day.