An intensifying and dangerous hurricane in the tropical eastern Pacific Ocean is set to slam into Mexico’s west coast Tuesday.
With sustained winds of 160 mph and an estimated central pressure of 925 millibars, Hurricane Willa reached “potentially catastrophic” Category 5 intensity Monday morning, the National Hurricane Center said.
The storm is expected to crash ashore between Mazatlan (to the north) and Puerto Vallarta (to the south) on Tuesday. Although Willa is unlikely to directly hit those two population centers, several moderately sized cities are near its path, such as Escuinapa, with roughly 30,000 residents.
Hurricane warnings stretch from San Blas to Mazatlan along Mexico’s coast, including Las Islas Marias. This zone should expect a life-threatening storm surge, extreme hurricane-force winds and heavy rainfall as the storm roars inland.
“Residents should rush preparations to completion to protect life and property and follow any advice given by local officials,” the Hurricane Center said.
The storm is predicted to slowly weaken before landfall but remain a dangerous and major hurricane, rated Category 3 or higher.
The Hurricane Center cautioned that hurricane-force winds could extend some distance inland from the coast and that rainfall “is likely to produce life-threatening flash flooding and landslides over much of southwestern and west-central Mexico.”
On its way toward landfall, Willa is moving slowly to the north at 7 mph. This slow movement should continue in the short term, but with time the hurricane will accelerate.
“Willa is an extremely impressive hurricane in infrared and visible satellite imagery this morning,” the Hurricane Center wrote in its latest update. Although the appearance has perhaps degraded somewhat since its peak Sunday night and early Monday morning, Willa still has a very well-defined eye surrounded by a ring of intense thunderstorms.
Willa is perhaps beginning an eyewall replacement cycle, which tends to stabilize and even temporarily cause storms to weaken as one eyewall collapses and a new one takes over.
After Willa comes ashore, it should be quickly torn apart by wind shear and the terrain of Mexico. Even so, its remnants are likely to help spawn a significant East Coast storm system heading into the coming weekend.
At Category 5 strength, Willa has become one of the strongest storms on Earth this year. It also continues to climb higher among the list of all-time most powerful eastern Pacific hurricanes as it approaches landfall.
The storm’s rate of intensification has been extreme, climbing from a 40 mph tropical storm to a 155 mph hurricane in just 48 hours between Saturday and Monday (and from 100 to 160 mph in the most recent 24 hours).
In what has become a hyperactive season in this area, Willa rapidly intensified in a zone where storms have historically gained considerable strength at this time of year.
Below is a map of all major hurricanes that passed near Willa’s location as it became a Category 5. The most recent was Patricia in October 2015, which was the strongest on record.
Willa’s is the 10th major hurricane to form in the northeast Pacific Ocean this year. So far, 2018 is tied with 1992 for the second-most major hurricanes on record in this region.
Capital Weather Gang’s Jason Samenow contributed to this report.