Published on 23 Oct 2015

‘Potentially catastrophic’ hurricane to hit Mexico

A category five hurricane – the strongest on the hurricane scale – is set to hit the coast of western Mexico on Friday evening (local time).

Hurricane Patricia has been described as “potentially catastrophic” by the National Hurricane Center in Miami, and is the strongest ever recorded for the eastern North Pacific Ocean area.

Steady winds are currently around 200mph, with gusts approaching 250mph, and it could still strengthen a little more prior to making landfall.

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What makes Hurricane Patricia extremely dangerous is that it will make landfall as a category five storm – close to peak intensity.

Devastating impacts for parts of western Mexico

Where the strongest of the 200mph winds hit, the impacts will be devastating, with buildings flattened, horrendous damage and loss of life.

However, it is worth pointing out that the hurricane-force winds – sustained winds of more than 73mph – are only expected to extend 30 miles from the centre of Hurricane Patricia, with the most dangerous 200mph winds just 5-10 miles.

Nevertheless, despite the most damaging winds being confined close to the centre of the hurricane, there will still be a significant storm surge at the coast, which will inundate low-lying areas with water.

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Widespread heavy rain and flooding

The other more widespread problem from Hurricane Patricia will be the copious amount of rain that is expected across the states of Nayarit, Jalisco, Colima, Michoacan and Guerrero in the next two days.

Around 8-12 inches of rain is widely expected to fall from clouds laden with vast amounts of tropical moisture, with as much as 20 inches in the worst affected areas.

Such a large amount of rain falling in a short space of time will cause life-threatening flooding and mudslides – especially for mountainous areas, where the ground can become unstable once saturated with water.

Comparisons to Typhoon Haiyan

There have been comparisons by the World Meteorological Organziation between Hurricane Patricia and Typhoon Haiyan, which killed 6,300 people when it struck the Philippines in November 2013.

Even though the comparison of strength is valid, the geography and population density of the area that Hurricane Patricia is going to hit are quite different.

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Typhoon Haiyan passed through the central Philippines, which meant that it still had lots of very warm water to draw energy from and therefore it didn’t really weaken.

Hurricane Patricia will weaken rapidly once it makes landfall, as it will no longer have the energy source of the warm ocean waters. Also, the rugged mountains of western Mexico will tear it apart.

Nevertheless, a storm of this ferocity will no doubt cause damage and loss of life. I’ll be keeping an eye on the storm and posting updates on Twitter – @liamdutton

Images: NOAA, Naval Research Laboratory

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