A hurricane stronger than Katrina in 2005 and Andrew in 1992 is poised to hit Mexico’s biggest ports and holiday resorts within hours.
Hurricane Patricia, the strongest ever recorded in the Eastern Pacific or Atlantic Basin, is forecast to go ashore between Puerto Vallarta and Manzanillo on Friday with winds as high as 205 miles (330 kilometers) per hour, or Category 5 major storm strength, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami.
The “extremely dangerous” Patricia may reach into Texas with flooding rain and hit Mexico with life-threatening mudslides and flash floods as a record-setting year for tropical systems continues, according to the National Weather Service.
“With this type of wind the damage is catastrophic; there are very few structures that withstand this” strength of hurricane, Dennis Feltgen, a meteorologist and spokesman for the National Hurricane Center, said Friday by phone from Miami. “The trees are long gone, we’re talking building ripped off foundations.”
Patricia is bearing down on a part of Mexico that is home to Pacific beach resort Puerto Vallarta and Manzanillo, the nation’s busiest container port. Manzanillo also has a liquefied natural gas terminal and a rail line operated by Ferromex, a railroad owned by Grupo Mexico SAB and Union Pacific Corp. Guadalajara, Mexico’s second-biggest metropolitan area, is about 125 miles from the coast.
At 8 a.m. East Coast time, the system was about 145 miles southwest of Manzanillo with top winds of 200 mph. The international airports in Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, Manzanillo and Colima were closed, Mexico’s civil protection coodinator, Jose Maria Tapia, said during a press conference,.
Hurricane Katrina, which killed more than 1,800 people, was a Category 3 storm when it reached landfall. While it’s unclear what the wind speed will be when Patricia hits land, Feltgen said he saw it remaining a Category 5 hurricane when it reaches the shore.
The system is likely to become this year’s latest devastating and record-breaking storm. Typhoon Koppu flooded the Philippines starting late last week and claimed about 40 lives, while Hurricane Joaquin sank the container ship El Faro in the Bahamas at the beginning of the month, killing 33 crew members.
Reliable data for the entire hemisphere goes back only to about 1985, said Phil Klotzbach, lead author of the Colorado State University seasonal hurricane forecast.
This year’s list does not include the Indian Ocean, which has yet to produce a top-strength storm.
Patricia worried forecasters because it grew so powerful in a short period of time. Through Thursday, its peak winds went from 40 mph to 130 mph in 24 hours, said Bob Henson, a meteorologist and blogger with Weather Underground.
“Patricia is quite a serious threat for the Mexican coastline,” Henson said. “That’s a very impressive rate of intensification for any tropical cyclone.”
A Category 5 storm can sweep away buildings, and cause lethal flash floods and power outages lasting for weeks to months, the hurricane center said. “Preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion,” it said.
In addition to wind and storm surge damage along the coast, Patricia could drop as much as 12 inches (30 centimeters) of rain across Mexico as it breaks apart in the country’s mountain ranges, said Dan Kottlowski, a meteorologist with AccuWeather Inc. in State College, Pennsylvania. Whatever rain falls in Guadalajara, just inland, twice as much will probably drench the highlands, he said.
The threat won’t stop even after Patricia degenerates. Moisture from the storm will pour into eastern Texas, threatening a large part of the state – from San Antonio to Houston and as far north as Dallas – with 8 to 10 inches of rain, Kottlowski said.
“They are going to get hit pretty hard,” he said. “Since July, most of this area has had no rain.”
In fact, a drought has developed across eastern Texas into Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi since last spring’s flooding rains.
Central Texas is already being drenched with heavy rains from another system, the U.S. Weather Prediction Center said Thursday, and almost 5 inches will fall through Friday. More than double that will occur over the next five days.
There is even an outside chance that Patricia will try to reform as a tropical system in the Gulf of Mexico early next week, Kottlowski said.
Flooding rain is coming no matter what.
(With assistance from Nacha Cattan in Mexico City.)
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