MEXICO CITY — Tropical Storm Julia strengthened to a Category 1 hurricane Saturday evening, U.S. forecasters said.
The National Hurricane Center upgraded the tropical cyclone to hurricane status shortly after 7 p.m. as the storm churned about 125 miles northeast of Nicaragua.
The storm was passing San Andres Island, Colombia, and heading for Nicaragua, the center said. It was moving west at 17 mph, it said.
Maximum sustained winds were estimated at 75 mph Saturday, the center said.
In a forecast discussion Saturday, the center said the hurricane could end up “reaching the coast of Nicaragua overnight and then moving across the country.”
Federal forecasters said life-threatening flash floods and mud slides were possible in Nicaragua and southern Mexico.
Colombian President Gustavo Petro declared a “maximum alert” on the islands and asked hotels to prepare space to shelter the vulnerable population. Officials on San Andres imposed a curfew for residents at 6 a.m. Saturday to limit people in the streets. Air operations to the islands were suspended.
Similar precautions were underway in the central area of Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast, where authorities issued an alert for all types of vessels to seek safe harbor.
Nicaraguan soldiers began preparing the evacuation of inhabitants of islands and cays around the town of Sandy Bay Sirpi. The army said it delivered humanitarian supplies to the municipalities of Bluefields and Laguna de Perlas for distribution to 118 temporary shelters.
A hurricane warning was in effect for Colombia’s San Andres, Providencia and Santa Catalina Island, and Nicaragua from Laguna de Perlas to Puerto Cabezas, according to the hurricane center.
A greater threat than Julia’s winds were rains of 4 to 10 inches — up to 15 inches in isolated areas — that the storm was expected to dump across Central America.
“This rainfall may cause life-threatening flash floods and mudslides through this weekend,” the National Hurricane Center said.
The storm’s remnants were forecast to sweep across Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and southern Mexico, a region already saturated by weeks of heavy rains.
It’s the fifth hurricane of the 2022 Atlantic tropical cyclone season.