Pushed on by warm water, Hurricane Willa exploded from a tropical depression to a Category 5 hurricane in 54 hours, making it the third such storm in the eastern Pacific this year, tying records set in 1994 and 2002, said Jeff Masters, co-founder of Weather Underground, an IBM company, in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
“It’s probably at its peak,” Masters said. As Willa approaches Mexico’s coast near Mazatlan, its structure could be torn up by both the mainland at its front and Baja California at the rear. “I do expect it to weaken rapidly because it’s going to have land on two sides.”
Mexico’s Pacific coast hasn’t been hit by a Category 5 storm in modern records, said Masters. Hurricane Patricia, the strongest storm ever measured in the western hemisphere, weakened to a Category 4 storm, with winds of 150 miles (241 kilometers) per hour before striking a sparsely populated area along Mexico’s west coast in October 2015. Patricia killed 13 and caused $460 million in damage, the strongest storm ever to make landfall in the eastern Pacific region.
On its current track, Willa could cause $5 billion in damage, but it probably won’t have a big impact on insurers, said Chuck Watson, a disaster modeler at Enki Research in Savannah, Georgia.
The deadliest storm to hit the region was a Category 4 October 1959 hurricane that came ashore near the port city of Manzanillo, destroying hundreds of homes and killing as many as 1,800 people. Pacific water temperatures are about 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit (1 Celsius) above normal and Willa was able to tap into that pool to fuel its rapid strengthening, Masters said.
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