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Agatha forecast to hit Mexico as Category 2 hurricane and enter Gulf

Tropical storm is predicted to rapidly intensify and could cross Mexico and become storm threat in Gulf of Mexico later next week

Satellite view of Tropical Storm Agatha on Saturday morning. (NOAA)
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Agatha became the first named storm of the eastern Pacific hurricane season Saturday, and it is forecast to rapidly intensify into a hurricane before striking the west coast of Mexico on Monday.

Hurricane watches have been posted for the southern coast of Mexico from Salina Cruz to Punta Maldonado because the storm could blast ashore with a devastating combination of torrential rain, damaging winds and an ocean surge that could inundate coastal communities.

The storm is also of concern to forecasters in the Atlantic basin, as it may cross Mexico and emerge next week in the Gulf of Mexico, where it could regenerate and eventually threaten some places along the Gulf Coast.

At 11 a.m. Saturday, Agatha was positioned 215 miles southwest of Puerto Angel, Mexico, drifting west-northwest at 5 mph. Its maximum sustained winds were just 45 mph, but it was organizing quickly.

Over the next 48 hours, it is predicted to strengthen quickly, becoming a Category 2 hurricane with 100 mph winds by Monday morning; landfall is predicted shortly thereafter.

The National Hurricane Center wrote that the storm is in “near ideal environmental conditions” for intensification; it is passing over very warm ocean waters, which help fuel storms, and will encounter a lack of hostile upper-level winds that could disrupt thunderstorm development. The Hurricane Center said rapid intensification — or an increase in wind speed of at least 35 mph in 24 hours — “is a distinct possibility” over the next day.

Although much of the tropical Pacific Ocean is cooler than normal because of La Niña, Agatha is over a small pool of warmer-than-normal water that could aid its strengthening. Scientists have found that warming waters due to human-caused climate change are increasing the tendency for tropical storms and hurricanes to rapidly intensify.

Conditions are expected to deteriorate in the hurricane-watch zone starting Sunday night, with the worst conditions on Monday, as the storm makes landfall. The Hurricane Center projects the following impacts:

  • Tropical-storm-force (39+ mph) winds starting Sunday night and hurricane-force (74+ mph) winds Monday.
  • A storm surge — or rise in ocean water above normally dry land — near and just to the east of where the storm center crosses the coast, along with “large and destructive waves.”
  • 10 to 16 inches of rain in the Mexican state of Oaxaca, with isolated 20-inch totals. “Life-threatening flash flooding and mudslides may occur,” the Hurricane Center wrote.

As the storm moves across southern Mexico, heavy rain will expand across its interior Monday into Tuesday, posing an additional threat of serious floods, according to the Hurricane Center.

By Wednesday or Thursday, if the remnants of Agatha withstand passage over land, they could move over the Gulf of Mexico and begin to redevelop.

The Hurricane Center currently indicates that there is a 20 percent chance of the development of a tropical depression or storm in the Bay of Campeche, in the southern gulf, over the next five days.

If the storm regenerates in the gulf, it would earn a new name and become the first storm of the 2022 Atlantic hurricane season: Alex.

NOAA forecasts seventh straight busy Atlantic hurricane season

Agatha formed in the eastern Pacific Ocean about two weeks ahead of the average first named storm, tweeted Jeff Masters, a hurricane specialist who writes for Yale’s Climate Connections.

Despite the early formation of Agatha, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has projected a below-average season in the eastern Pacific, primarily due to La Niña and its associated cooler-than-normal waters.