Category 3 Hurricane Willa is set to slam Mexico’s west coast Tuesday evening with “life-threatening storm surge, wind and rainfall,” according to the National Hurricane Center.
Although Willa’s intensity has been on a downward trend since it peaked as a Category 5 storm with 160-mph winds on Monday, it continues to be quite dangerous, packing sustained winds of 125 mph.
As of Tuesday morning, Willa’s violent core was passing through Las Islas Marias on its way toward the coast. Las Islas Marias is a small group of islands a little more than 60 miles offshore. It is minimally inhabited by a federal prison. From the islands, Willa’s slow forward pace of six mph is predicted to accelerate, bringing the storm ashore somewhere near Isla del Bosque around or after 6 this evening, local time.
“An extremely dangerous storm surge is likely along portions of the coast of southwestern Mexico in southern Sinaloa and Nayarit, especially near and to the south of where the center of Willa makes landfall,” the Hurricane Center wrote in its morning update.
Hurricane warnings are up from San Blas to Mazatlan along the western Mexico coastline. Tropical storm warnings are up surrounding that area, with bounds of Bahia Tempehuaya on the north and Playa Perula to the south, including Puerto Vallarta.
Rainfall totals of six to 12 inches — and locally up to 18 inches — are a risk in and around the landfall area. This portion of Mexico quickly transitions from beaches to mountainous terrain. That rise in elevation will only increase the risk of flash floods and landslides as water pours down the steeply pitched slopes.
In addition to the watery aspects of the storm, those near landfall will experience a long period of damaging winds. Although Willa may weaken to a Category 2 at landfall, near the storm’s core, sustained winds of about 110 mph and wind gusts of about 130 mph are possible.
Although the appearance of Willa is less impressive since it reached peak intensity Monday, the current eyewall replacement cycle has been attempting to complete, and the newer eyewall — which is the zone of strongest winds — is much larger than the old one.
The increase in size of the primary eyewall should act to increase the area at risk of damaging winds. When combined with very warm water along the rest of Willa’s track toward shore, this size increase may also slow or even stop the weakening seen over the past day or so.
As Willa makes landfall and beyond, it will steadily weaken and become absorbed by a high-altitude weather disturbance moving in from the west. Remnants of Willa are likely to cause heavy rain across parts of the southern United States, including Central Texas on Wednesday, which is still reeling from recent bouts of flooding rain.
Eventually, the remnants of Willa are expected to help whip up the first significant East Coast storm system of the coming winter season.