Hurricane Patricia — the strongest hurricane ever recorded — weakened slightly as it barreled closer to Mexico’s Pacific coast, with sustained winds decreasing to 190 mph and gusts to 235 mph on Friday afternoon, the National Hurricane Center said in its latest advisory.
Residents are bracing for potentially catastrophic 200 mph sustained winds and torrential rains.
The excessive wind speeds, according to the head of the Mexican agency that includes its national weather service, “makes Patricia the most dangerous storm in history.”
By that, CONAGUA director Robert Ramirez de la Parra meant any cyclone ever measured not just in and around Mexico, but anywhere in the world.
Ramirez de la Parra predicted Hurricane Patricia will make landfall somewhere on the coast of Jalisco state — which includes the tourist hot spot of Puerto Vallarta and is also close to Manzanillo and Colima — between 5 and 6 p.m. CT (6 and 7 p.m. ET). But its impact should be felt much sooner, with 100 kph (62 mph) winds lashing the region in the early afternoon.
While its strength could fluctuate, “Patricia is expected to remain an extremely dangerous Category 5 hurricane through landfall,” the U.S. National Weather Center said Friday afternoon.
Already, Patricia is “the strongest hurricane on record in the National Hurricane Center’s area of responsibility (AOR) which includes the Atlantic and the eastern North Pacific basins,” according to a Friday morning forecast discussion.
The closest contender, at this point, might be Hurricane Camille, which battered the U.S. Gulf Coast in 1969. Patricia looks to be more powerful than that storm, as well as stronger than Hurricane Andrew in 1992, Katrina in 2005 and many others.
It already has surpassed them in one way: its central pressure reading — the weight of the air above a system — which is a key measure of any storm’s strength.
The midday Friday central pressure recording of 879 millibars (the barometric pressure equivalent is 25.96 inches) “is the lowest for any tropical cyclone globally for over 30 years,” according to the Met Office, Britain’s weather service.
Patricia’s intensity is comparable to Typhoon Haiyan, which hit the Philippines in 2013, the World Meteorological Organization tweeted. More than 6,000 people died in Haiyan, due largely to enormous storm surges that rushed through coastal areas. Haiyan had 195 mph sustained windswhen it made landfall, while Typhoon Tip was at 190 mph (and had a slightly lower pressure reading of 870 millibars) in 1979.
Whether Patricia measures up to those Asian typhoons when it slams Mexico, CNN meteorologist Chad Myers said, “This is the only hurricane that’s ever been this powerful.”
Early Friday afternoon, the storm was centered 85 miles (135 kilometers) southwest of Manzanillo, Mexico, and 155 miles south of Cabo Corrientes.
Moving at 12 mph, it is forecast to pivot north-northeast later Friday and pick up speed — especially after it makes landfall, when Patricia should both accelerate and “rapidly weaken over the mountains of Mexico.”
A hurricane warning, which means hurricane conditions were expected within 24 hours, extends from San Blas to Punta San Telmo. A larger area, from east of Punta San Telmo to Lazaro Cardenas, is under a hurricane watch.
In addition to powerful winds, concerns are high about dangerous storm surges like those that overran the Filipino city of Tacloban during Haiyan. The National Hurricane Center warned about those, as well as swells that “are likely to cause life-threatening surf and rip-current conditions.”
“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,” the U.S. agency said of Patricia.
Rainfall of 8 to 12 inches — and possibly 20 inches in some spots — “could produce life-threatening flash floods and mudslides,” according to the U.S. weather agency.
All that adds up to millions of people under threat, some of them tourists who’d gone to the coast to get away. (CNN)