Mexico’s Pacific Coast is bracing for a worst-case scenario after Hurricane Patricia became a Category 5 storm Thursday evening just 200 miles offshore while beginning an ominous northward turn. Its dangerous eye is expected to move onshore Friday night, potentially becoming the most powerful hurricane to cross Mexico’s Pacific coastline in modern history.
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Several million residents and the popular coastal resorts of Puerto Vallarta and Manzanillo are in the path of Patricia, which is packing potentially catastrophic sustained winds as high as 160 mph and will also bring a formidable flood threat.
With Patricia less than 36 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.
The National Hurricane Center says Patricia is second only to 1997’s Hurricane Linda among the fastest-strengthening tropical cyclones on record in the Eastern Pacific since reliable satellite data became available in 1971.
As of 10 p.m. CDT, Patricia was located about 200 miles (320 km) south-southwest of Manzanillo, Mexico, or about 295 miles (470 km) south of Cabo Corrientes, Mexico. The eye is moving north-northwest at 10 mph (17 kph). Maximum sustained winds are estimated at 160 mph (260 kph).
– 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.
– 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 as early as late Thursday night 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.
Patricia is forecast to be a Category 4 or 5 hurricane at landfall, capable of causing catastrophic wind damage.
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 comission, CONAGUA, warned Thursday that waves of up to 12 meters (39 feet) may crash onto beaches near the landfall point.
The projected path for Patricia shows that the center of the hurricane will make landfall late Friday somewhere on the coast from near Manzanillo to near Puerto Vallarta. Note that even areas outside the projected path, including Manzanillo, could see significant impacts from Patricia.
Patricia is expected to dump 6 to 12 inches (150 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.
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.