Satellite image of Earl on Wednesday morning. (NOAA)

Since Tuesday, Tropical Storm Earl has become much better organized and is very close to becoming the season’s second hurricane. It is on a collision course with Belize, where it is forecast to make landfall tonight.

Earl’s maximum sustained winds have reached 70 mph, just shy of hurricane intensity. As of 11 a.m. eastern, the storm was positioned 235 miles east southeast of Belize City, and was cruising to the west at 14 mph.

Hurricane warnings have been posted from Puerto Costa Maya, Mexico, to the Belize-Guatemala border. All of coastal Belize is included in the hurricane warning.


(National Hurricane Center)

On its westward journey, the intensifying storm is scraping Honduras’ north coast and Bay Islands — also under hurricane warnings.

By the time Earl makes landfall tonight, irrespective of whether it’s a strong tropical storm or a Category 1 hurricane, Belize can expect damaging winds, flooding due to heavy rain (especially in more mountainous areas), and a storm surge of five to six feet north of where the storm center crosses the coastline.

Models project eight to 12 inches of rain from Earl over parts of Belize, Honduras, Guatemala, and southern Mexico.


Five-day forecast rainfall swath from the morning run of the HWRF hurricane model. (NOAA)

Isolated rainfall amounts of up to 16 inches are possible in the higher terrain of Mexico and Belize. Devastating flash floods and mudslides are possible, which are frequently among the most lethal hazards in tropical systems affecting Central America.

After cutting through Belize, Earl might briefly re-emerge over the Bay of Campeche, though probably not long enough to regain much strength.

Assuming Earl becomes a hurricane today, it would mark the earliest date that two hurricanes have formed in the Atlantic since 2008.

The last time Belize was struck by a hurricane was October 2010 when Richard hit as a Category 2 storm.

Going back to 1950, Belize has only been impacted by 13 hurricanes, and only four since 1980 (2000, 2001, 2007, and 2010).  The strongest recorded hurricanes to strike Belize — Category 4 and 5 storms — were Janet in 1955, Hattie in 1961, Keith in 2000, Iris in 2001, and Dean in 2007.  Not all of these storms technically made landfall in Belize, but they came ashore close enough that the country experienced major hurricane conditions.


Tracks of the 13 hurricanes that affected Belize with hurricane conditions since 1950. (NOAA)

Jason Samenow contributed to this post.