Hurricane Ernesto was forecast to hit Mexico's northeastern Yucatan Peninsula Tuesday night, U.S. forecasters said at midday.
By 2 p.m. Ernesto had grown from a tropical storm to a Category 1 hurricane with sustained winds of 80 mph, U.S. Air Force hurricane hunter aircraft reported to the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
Hurricane warnings were posted by the Mexican government from Chetumal to Tulum on the east coast of the Yucatan Peninsula and also for the entire coast of Belize, the center said.
Tropical storm-force winds were expected in the storm warning area along the Honduran coast throughout the day Tuesday. Hurricane conditions, preceded by tropical storm conditions, were expected to reach the coasts of Belize, Guatemala and Mexico.
Warnings and watches were also posted along coastal areas from the Honduras-Nicaragua border north to Mexico.
"Some additional strengthening is possible before Ernesto reaches the Yucatan Peninsula," the forecast said.
The storm center was about 185 miles east of Chetumal, Mexico, moving west-northwest at about 14 mph, the center said.
Ernesto was expected to produce 3-5 inches of rain along the northern coast of Honduras, with isolated amounts of 8 inches over mountainous terrain.
"A dangerous storm surge will raise water levels by as much as 2 to 4 feet above normal tide levels along the immediate coast near and to the north of where the center makes landfall on the East Coast of the Yucatan Peninsula," the center warned.
The storm is forecast to lose strength as it passes over land for about 24 hours, but could well power up again when it reaches the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
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