Hurricane Patricia strengthened into a Category 5 storm with terrifying speed overnight, bringing dangerous winds and promising a deluge of rain as it approached landfall in southwestern Mexico.
People along the Mexican coast are bracing for the historic storm, expected to hit Friday afternoon. Here’s what you need to know about the most intense hurricane ever:
Officials in Mexico have declared a state of emergency and are rushing to evacuate residents and tourists
The states of Nayarit, Jalisco, Colima, Michoacan and Guerrero are in Patricia’s path and include the tourist resort towns of Manzanillo and Puerto Vallarta. Authorities have declared a state of emergency, and classes at schools in Jalisco and Colima were suspended.
Flights to and from Puerto Vallarta and Manzanillo have been canceled and airports have been closed.
Speaking on local radio, Interior Minister Osorio Chong said the hurricane is expected to make landfall at about 4 p.m. and remain over the area for at least four hours.
Jalisco state Gov. Aristoteles Sandoval is appealing to residents and tourists via Twitter to get to local shelters by 2 p.m.
Hurricane Patricia has already racked up 200-mph sustained winds, and doesn’t show signs of slowing as it approaches land
Wind gusts have been even higher, and Patricia is expected to remain an “extremely dangerous Category 5 hurricane” even as it makes landfall, according the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Source: National Hurricane Center
World Meteorological Organization spokeswoman Clare Nullis told a U.N. briefing in Geneva that “the winds are enough to lift a plane into the air and keep it flying.”
The storm could bring 40-foot waves and torrential rains of between 8 and 12 inches, prompting fears of flash flooding and mudslides. NOAA is also warning of “life-threatening surf and rip currents.”
NOAA has advised people in low-lying areas near the coast to evacuate immediately.
It’s the most intense tropical cyclone the Western Hemisphere has ever seen
That is to say, Patricia is the most powerful tropical cyclone on the Saffir-Simpson scale, which measures wind speed, to hit the eastern Pacific or the Atlantic. In these areas, such storms are called hurricanes.
Tropical cyclones are called typhoons in the western North Pacific and cyclones when they form in the Indian Ocean or the South Pacific Ocean.
Because of this, Patricia is considered the most intense hurricane ever, according to the Saffir-Simpson scale.
Patricia’s atmospheric pressure has been measured at 880 millibars. For comparison, the lowest pressure ever recorded for a tropical cyclone anywhere was Typhoon Tip in 1979, which measured 870 mb.
The National Hurricane Center says Hurricane Patricia’s minimum central pressure is comparable to the strength of Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, which killed more than 7,000 people.
Hurricane Patricia intensified at a rate comparable to some record-breaking storms
In less than 24 hours, Patricia’s peak winds exploded from 85 mph Thursday morning to more than 200 mph by early Friday, according to meteorologists. The storm grew at an “incredible rate” over a 12-hour span, the World Meteorological Organization said.
The last record-breaker, Hurricane Wilma in 2005, intensified from 150 mph to 184 mph in just under five and a half hours, and its pressure dropped from 954 millibars to 901 millibars, at a rate of about 9.8 mb/hour.
Warm ocean water, calm winds and a relatively compact storm structure helped spur the rapid intensification.
Hurricane Patricia is making history almost 10 years to the day that Hurricane Wilma shattered records for the Atlantic hurricane basin
Ten years ago this week, Hurricane Wilma made landfall on the Yucatan Peninsula, lashing the Riviera Maya resorts, dumping feet of rain at a time, and ripping roofs off buildings.
Days earlier, it had set a record as the most intense hurricane ever in the Atlantic basin at 882 millibars, breaking the old record set by Hurricane Gilbert in 1988, according to NOAA. It also shattered the record for fastest intensifying hurricane, dropping 88 mb in just 12 hours at almost double the rate of the previous record-holding storm, and also had the smallest eye (2 miles) known to the National Hurricane Center.
Hurricane Wilma killed 23 people, including five in Florida, and caused an estimated $21 billion in damage in the United States alone. Experts have attributed the relatively low death toll to the fact that Mexican authorities had two days to prepare.
Los Angeles Times staff writer Michael Muskal and special correspondent Deborah Bonello contributed to this report.
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