Hurricane Patricia intensified into a real monster overnight and is moving toward landfall near Puerto Vallarta today. Calling Patricia a Category 5 hurricane, the highest level on the usual scale, "underestimates just how ferocious this storm is," weather analyst Eric Holthaus writes at Slate. The storm is being measured with the highest winds ever recorded — "the stuff of meteorologists’ nightmares."
And I quote: "Patricia is now very close to the theoretical maximum strength for a tropical cyclone on planet Earth."
More from Holthaus:
The National Hurricane Center, with official forecasting responsibility for the Atlantic and eastern Pacific, all but ran out of words to describe the storm’s ferocity, labeling it “potentially catastrophic” and “incredible.” On Twitter, professional weather watchers went a step further, marveling at the storm’s record-breaking ability and fearing for Mexico’s coastal cities…
The storm threatens to be the strongest ever to hit Mexico’s Pacific coast, surpassing a 1959 hurricane that also ranks as the deadliest in that part of the Pacific. As it moves inland, Patricia is expected to produce up to two feet of rain in Mexico’s coastal mountain range, creating a risk of flooding and mudslides over a vast area including Guadalajara, the country’s second-largest city.
As of Friday morning, Mexico is scrambling to prepare for Patricia. Three states—Jalisco, Colima, and Nayarit—have declared states of emergency. In Colima, officials handed out sandbags. Nearly 400,000 people are in the storm’s path.
Over the past 30 hours, Patricia’s central pressure has fallen by 114 millibars, from 994 to 880—possibly beating the world’s record for fastest intensification. Since lower air pressure drives faster wind speeds, such a fast intensification has greatly increased the storm’s strength—Patricia strengthened by 100 mph in 24 hours, the most in the era of complete data coverage by weather satellites. This historic data was collected by a hurricane hunter aircraft flying through the center of Patricia, which departed the storm as it was still strengthening. Shortly after the research plane left, satellite estimates of Patricia’s intensity broke the Dvorak scale, peaking at 8.3 on the 8.0 scale.
Here is the detailed discussion from the National Hurricane Center as of 8 a.m. Pacific time. The center refers to Patricia as a "potentially catastrophic" weather event. Sample:
1. Confidence is high that Patricia will make landfall in the hurricane warning area along the coast of Mexico as an extremely dangerous category 5 hurricane this afternoon or evening. Preparations to protect life and property in the hurricane warning area should have been completed, or rushed to completion, as tropical storm conditions are spreading across the area. Residents in low-lying areas near the coast in the hurricane warning area should evacuate immediately, since the storm surge could be catastrophic near and to the east of where the center makes landfall.
2. In addition to the coastal impacts, very heavy rainfall is likely to cause life-threatening flash floods and mud slides in the Mexican states of Jalisco, Colima, Michoacan and Guerrero continuing into Saturday.
3. At this time, the Category 5 winds are occurring over a very small area near the center - about 15 miles across. A NOAA Hurricane Hunter aircraft is scheduled to investigate Patricia before landfall to see what changes in intensity and structure have
The government of Mexico has issued a hurricane watch along the coast from San Blas to Punta San Telmo.
11 a.m. update from the National Hurricane Center puts the hurricane 85 miles southwest of Manzanillo and bearing down on the coast.
HAZARDS AFFECTING LAND ---------------------- WIND: Hurricane conditions should reach the hurricane warning area during the next few hours, with the worst conditions likely this afternoon and this evening. Tropical storm conditions are now spreading across portions of the warning area. Preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion. Hurricane conditions are possible in the hurricane watch area today.
RAINFALL: Patricia is expected to produce total rainfall
accumulations of 8 to 12 inches, with isolated maximum amounts of 20
inches, over the Mexican states of Nayarit, Jalisco, Colima,
Michoacan, and Guerrero through Saturday. These rains could produce
life-threatening flash floods and mud slides.
STORM SURGE: An extremely dangerous storm surge is expected to
produce significant coastal flooding near and to the right of where
the center makes landfall. Near the coast, the surge will be
accompanied by large and destructive waves.
SURF: Swells generated by Patricia are already affecting portions
of the southern coast of Mexico, and will spread northwestward
during the next day or so. These swells are likely to cause
life-threatening surf and rip current conditions. Please consult
products from your local weather office.