A potentially catastrophic landfall is expected Friday evening as a very powerful and dangerous Hurricane Patricia moves towards Mexico’s Pacific coast. Hurricane Patricia became the most powerful tropical cyclone ever measured in the Western Hemisphere on Friday morning as its maximum sustained winds reached an unprecedented 200 mph (320 kph).
The hurricane is forecast to make landfall in the Mexican state of Jalisco Friday evening as a catastrophic Category 5 hurricane capable of causing widespread destruction. Residents and authorities in Mexico are rushing to prepare for what will likely be the strongest hurricane to ever make landfall on that country’s Pacific coastline.
(MORE: Mexico Prepares for Patricia)
At 4 p.m. CDT, the eye of Hurricane Patricia was about 60 miles (135 kilometers) southwest of Manzanillo, Mexico with 190 mph sustained winds, and was moving north-northeast at 14 mph (23 kph).
In addition to its unprecedented 200-mph (320-kph) sustained winds earlier Friday, Hurricane Patricia now holds the record for lowest pressure in any hurricane on record. With a minimum central pressure of 880 millibars (25.99 inches of mercury) at the 4 a.m. CDT advisory, Patricia broke the record of 882 millibars set by Wilma almost exactly 10 years ago. At the 1 p.m. CDT advisory the minimum central pressure was lowered to 879 millibars (25.96 inches of mercury).
Data from an Air Force Hurricane Hunter airborne reconnaissance mission late Thursday night provided critical data demonstrating the extreme intensification of Hurricane Patricia in near-real time. A new NOAA reconnaissance aircraft reached the eye of Patricia early Friday afternoon to gather additional direct measurements of the storm’s intensity.
Unprecedented Among Pacific Hurricanes
Hurricane Patricia became the strongest Pacific hurricane on record shortly after midnight CDT early Friday. Air Force Hurricane Hunters had flown through the eye of Patricia and reported a sea-level pressure of 894 millibars as measured by a dropsonde inside the eye itself. Wind measurements suggested that the pressure measurement was not in the exact center of the eye and was probably not the absolute lowest pressure, prompting NHC to estimate the minimum central pressure at 892 millibars in its special 12:30 a.m. CDT advisory.
Current Wind Reports and Enhanced Satellite
Tropical cyclone strength comparisons are typically based on minimum central pressure. At 892 millibars, Patricia shattered the Eastern Pacific basin’s previous record of 902 millibars set by Hurricane Linda in 1997.
While a number of typhoons in the western North Pacific have been stronger, Patricia is by far the strongest hurricane in any basin where the term “hurricane” applies to tropical cyclones – namely, the central and eastern North Pacific basins and the North Atlantic basin, which includes the North Atlantic Ocean itself plus the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea.
Exceptionally Dangerous Situation in Mexico
The eye of Patricia is expected to move onshore either late Friday afternoon or Friday evening in the Mexican state of Jalisco, which includes the popular coastal resort city of Puerto Vallarta as well as the inland metropolis of Guadalajara, Mexico’s second-largest city.
The adjoining states of Colima and Nayarit will also feel the effects of Hurricane Patricia, which in addition to catastrophic winds will also bring a formidable flood threat. Depending on the exact track of Patricia’s eye, the resort city of Manzanillo may experience destructive winds, and is very likely to see flooding rainfall, dangerous storm surge and large, battering ocean waves breaking onshore.
Latest Storm Status and Satellite Image
Watches and warnings remain in effect for parts of Mexico’s Pacific coast:
- A hurricane warning includes the Pacific coast of Mexico from San Blas to Punta San Telmo. This warning includes the major coastal resort cities of Puerto Vallarta and Manzanillo.
- A hurricane watch is in effect east of Punta San Telmo to Lazaro Cardenas.
- A tropical storm warning is also in effect from east of Punta San Telmo to Lazaro Cardenas, as well as north of San Blas to El Roblito.
A hurricane warning means that hurricane conditions are expected in the warning area within 48 hours. A watch means hurricane conditions are possible in the watch area.
Tropical storm conditions are possible early Friday in the warning areas, and hurricane force winds are expected to reach the warning area Friday afternoon or evening.
While the resort area of Ixtapa and Zihuatanejo may see heavy rainfall associated with Patricia, there are no watches or warnings for tropical storm or hurricane conditions there. Acapulco is also not under any watches or warnings for Patricia.
Sustained Wind Forecast
Patricia is forecast to remain a Category 5 hurricane at landfall, making it capable of causing catastrophic wind damage.
The good news is that Category 5 winds are occurring over a very small area near the center, about 15 miles across. Otherwise, hurricane force winds extend outward up to 30 miles from the center and tropical storm force winds extend outward up to 175 miles.
Only one Category 5 hurricane has ever been known to make landfall on Mexico’s Pacific coast. That hurricane followed a path similar to that of Hurricane Patricia and struck near Puerto Vallarta in late October 1959, causing some 1,800 deaths.
With Patricia less than 12 hours away from landfall, this is the first time a Category 5 hurricane has posed an imminent threat to land in North America since Hurricane Felix approached Nicaragua in September 2007.
Patricia is expected to dump 8 to 12 inches (200 to 300 millimeters) of rain over the Mexican states of Jalisco, Colima, Michoacan and Guerrero. Life-threatening flash flooding and mudslides are possible. Localized amounts as high as 20 inches (500 millimeters) are possible.
A dangerous storm surge is expected to produce significant coastal flooding near and to the right of where the center of Patricia makes landfall. In addition, Mexico’s national water commission, CONAGUA, warned Thursday that waves of up to 12 meters (39 feet) may crash onto beaches near the landfall point.
Once this system moves inland, mid-level moisture and energy from it may get pulled into the south-central U.S. This may add more fuel to a heavy rain and flooding threat in Texas and nearby states this weekend.
Impressive Rapid Intensification
Patricia rapidly organized and intensified from Wednesday night through early Friday. Maximum sustained winds with the storm increased 115 mph in a 24-hour window from 85 mph at 4 a.m. CDT Thursday to 200 mph at 4 a.m. CDT Friday.
During that same time, the minimum central pressure of Patricia also decreased 100 millibars, from 980 millibars to 880 millibars.
This places Patricia among the most rapidly intensifying tropical cyclones ever witnessed anywhere in the world since the advent of modern meteorology.