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‘Potentially catastrophic’ Patricia, the strongest hurricane ever recorded, makes landfall in Mexico

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Early Friday, when its peak winds surged to 200 mph, the National Hurricane Center declared Hurricane Patricia had become the strongest storm it had ever recorded.

Friday evening, at 6:15 p.m. local time Friday, the extremely dangerous Category 5 storm made landfall along the coast of southwestern Mexico, near the town of Cuixmala.

In a situation described by the NHC as “potentially catastrophic“, the monster storm is unleashing destructive winds, torrents of rain, and a devastating storm surge as its moves inland.

After the storm’s maximum sustained winds strengthened to an astonishing 200 mph this morning, they decreased to 165 mph at landfall. Even slightly weakened, these Category 5 winds ranked the strongest of any storm at landfall originating in the northeast Pacific Ocean. Patricia is the first Category 5 hurricane to make landfall in North America since Dean in 2007.

The Weather Channel reported a weather station near Cuixmala, Mexico reported sustained winds of 185 mph with gusts to 211 mph before losing data around the time of landfall, although it’s not clear if those measurements are reliable.

Hurricane warnings Friday evening covered a zone spanning San Blas to Punta San Telmo including the resort town of Puerto Vallarta, with a population of just over 200,000 people.

[Mexico braces for Patricia, strongest hurricane ever recorded]

The storm’s most intense core is passing a good deal south of Puerto Vallarta, but within about 55 miles of Manzanillo, the other major population center (roughly 110,000 people) in the warning zone.

Early evening video from Manzanillo and Melaque, about 30 miles to the north (and closer to the center), showed vicious wind-driven rains lashing the area.

Patricia’s most intense Category 5 winds extend just five to 10 miles from the center, limiting the real estate subject to the worst destruction.

But in that small zone subject to the storm’s violent inner core, the impacts will be devastating – not unlike a strong tornado shredding the same area for an extended duration.

The storm has been able to achieve its historic intensity by developing over some of the warmest ocean temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere, over 86 degrees.

[Why hurricanes like Patricia are expected on a warmer planet]

The worst conditions are expected through Friday evening and overnight, when destructive winds are likely. Patricia is also forecast to produce 6-12 inches of rainfall, with isolated amounts to 20 inches, particularly in higher terrain.

“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 …. into Saturday,” the NHC warned.

The NHC says a ‘catastrophic’ storm surge, or rise in coastal waters, is possible just to the right or south of where the storm makes landfall. The surge would inundate low lying areas at the shore with impacts accentuated by ‘large and destructive’ waves.

Weather Underground meteorologist Jeff Masters says Patricia’s track “raises the odds of a catastrophic storm surge in or near Manzanillo.” From his blog post:

An unnamed 1959 hurricane–the deadliest in Northeast Pacific history, with an estimated 1,800 direct and indirect fatalities–struck near Manzanillo on October 27 … In a Friday afternoon blog post, storm surge expect Dr. Hal Needham says he expects a storm surge of 16.5 ft (5 m) … This would be the largest storm surge in the modern history of Western Mexico.

After the storm comes ashore, it is expected to rapidly weaken. However, it will produce substantial rain throughout central Mexico’s interior and is forecast to feed into a serious rainfall event in central and eastern Texas.

[Massive rain event to drench drought-stricken Texas]

Patricia made history Friday morning when its peak winds hit 200 mph. “This makes Patricia 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,” NHC said early Friday morning. “The minimum central pressure estimated from the aircraft data, 880 mb [down to 879 mb at 2 p.m. Friday], is the lowest ever for our AOR.”

[How and why Patricia stands above the four other most severe hurricanes in history]

Patricia experienced a historic rate of intensification between Wednesday night and early Friday morning when its peak winds increased by 140 mph. It morphed from a loosely organized conglomeration of thunderstorms to the planet’s strongest and most wicked class of storm.

“Patricia is estimated to have intensified 85 kt [100 mph] in the past 24 hours,” the National Hurricane Center said in its 11 p.m. update Thursday. “This is a remarkable feat, with only Linda of 1997 intensifying at this rate in the satellite era.”

Fueled by one of the strongest El Nino events since 1950, Patricia has become the 9th hurricane in the eastern Pacific to achieve at least category 4 or 5 intensity, which is the most on record.

It is the 22nd category 4 or 5 storm to form in the Northern Hemisphere this year, which is also the greatest number ever recorded.

[El Niño fueling most extreme tropical cyclone season on record in Northern Hemisphere]

Hurricane Patricia slams into Mexico coast

A boy looks at a tree felled by wind after the passing of Hurricane Patricia in La Union de Tula, Mexico October 24, 2015. Hurricane Patricia, one of the strongest storms ever recorded, crashed into western Mexico with rain and winds of up to 165 mph (266 kph), hammering coastal areas but causing less damage than had been feared as it skirted cities and major tourist resorts.Mowing down trees, flooding streets and battering buildings, Patricia plowed into Mexico as a Category 5 hurricane on Friday evening before grinding inland. It rapidly lost power in the mountains that rise up along the Pacific coast and was downgraded to a tropical depression on Saturday morning as it headed through central Mexico. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido (Edgard Garrido/Reuters)

(This post, originally published at 2:35 p.m., was updated at 11 p.m. on Thursday and at 7:50 a.m., 10:05 a.m., 11:05 a.m., 2:15 p.m., 5:10 p.m., 7:40 p.m. and 9:45 p.m. Friday)