From 12:27 p.m.: Bearing down on the east coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, Hurricane Rina may have reached its maximum intensity as a strong category 2 hurricane. The National Hurricane Center is no longer forecasting strengthening and the season’s sixth hurricane has probably just missed becoming the fourth major (category 3 or higher) hurricane.

Currently about 200 miles south-southeast of Cozumel, Rina’s maximum winds are estimated to be around 110 mph by the National Hurricane Center (NHC). It’s moving west-northwest at 5 mph. Hurricane warnings wrap around the point of the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico, extending from north of Punta Gruesa (on its southeast side) to San Felipe (on its northwest side)

Appearing somewhat ragged on satellite imagery, Rina is probably starting to weaken about 24 hours away from dealing a blow to the Mexican resort destinations of Cozumel and Cancun.

“Much like we’ve anticipated, I really think the dry air has done a number on Rina,” said Capital Weather Gang’s tropical weather expert Greg Postel. Postel believes Rina’s peak winds may have already dropped down to 100 mph. And the NHC admits its estimate of 110 mph “could be generous.”

From NASA: External cameras on the International Space Station captured views of Hurricane Rina at 2:39 p.m. EDT on Oct. 25, 2011, as the complex flew 248 miles over the Caribbean Sea east of Belize.

Computer model guidance indicates Rina should make landfall Thursday on the Yucatan’s east coast. By that time, additional weakening is possible. In addition to dry air, Rina is also starting to encounter an increase in hostile wind shear and a decrease in sea surface temperatures.

Rina’s current wind distribution. Peak winds of 90-95 knots (100-110 mph) are just north and northwest of the eyewall but are forecast to weaken. (NOAA)

In terms of wind and storm surge, locations just to the north and northwest of the eyewall are likely to catch the brunt of the storm. This may be very close to Cozumel or just to its southwest. Fortunately, the radius of hurricane force winds is limited to about 25 miles from the center and may contract some as the storm weakens. So a rather confined area (if any) may have to contend with hurricane-force winds. The NHC predicts a dangerous storm surge of 5-7 feet above normal tide levels, just to the north of where the center comes ashore.

Six hour rainfall projection by the GFDL model between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. EDT Thursday (Florida State University)

Link: Webcam image of Cancun

Ahead of the storm, CNN reports residents and tourists in Cancun are stocking up on supplies, water activities and fishing have been canceled, and that travel to Cozumel from the mainland will be suspended starting at 4 p.m. today:

“Our main concern is Cozumel and the Riviera Maya (the eastern coast of the Yucatan) because that’s where the hurricane is expected to hit first,” [Juan Gabriel] Granados [operation director for state civil protection] said. “All of the authorities are under alert. The army, the Marines and the Quintana Roo state police are also under alert.”

Rina’s fate after moving inland over the Yucatan is unclear. It may have already dissipated due to interaction with land and wind shear, or it may re-emerge over the southern Gulf of Mexico. If the latter occurs, there’s a small possibility it could move towards the Keys and South Florida - although unlikely at anything close to hurricane strength. As the NHC says “this is a low confidence forecast.”

We’ll continue to keep you posted.

Related: Hurricane Tracking Center