[Visible satellite image of Hurricane Patricia shortly after sunrise; courtesy NASA]
Hurricane Patricia intensified explosively yesterday from a category 1 storm early in the day to a category 5 level by early today - perhaps reaching the strongest levels ever seen during the record-keeping era in the eastern Pacific Ocean in terms of central pressure (880 mb or 25.98 inches) and wind speeds (maximum sustained winds near 200 mph). It is likely to make landfall later today somewhere between Puerto Vallarta and Manzanillo with 185 mph wind gusts possible along with torrential rainfall.
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 during the record-keeping era. The storm has been able to achieve incredible intensification by developing over some of the warmest ocean temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere, over 86 degrees. In fact, the “boxed-in” region on the sea surface temperature plot (below) has water temperatures that average 1°C higher than at any time in the last 34 years (source: Ryan Maue of WeatherBell Analytics).
[Sea surface temperature analysis of eastern Pacific Ocean region (dark brown region is 86-87 degrees F); source Weather Bell Analytics]
According to the National Hurricane Center, early this morning Patricia became the strongest hurricane recorded for the eastern Pacific and Atlantic Ocean. The estimated central pressure of Patricia dropped to 880 mb, breaking the record of 894 mb from Hurricane Linda in the eastern Pacific set in 1997 and also surpassing the 882 mb pressure of Hurricane Wilma in the Atlantic from 2005. The maximum sustained winds of 200 mph (160 knots) breaks the previous wind speed record from Linda and Wilma (185 mph) for the strongest surface winds ever in the area of responsibility of the National Hurricane Center.
[Colorized IR image of Hurricane Patricia from early today; courtesy NOAA, NASA]
While significant weakening will occur after the center of Patricia heads inland, copious amounts of moisture will head northeastward across Mexico bringing flooding along its path this weekend. By late in the weekend, the remains of Hurricane Patricia will head into the Texas/Louisiana section of the Gulf coastal region in the US bringing heavy rains and strong winds. The moisture is then likely to get caught up in a frontal system early next week across the Mississippi and Ohio Valleys and it could generate widespread heavy rainfall and even a significant severe weather outbreak. By the middle of next week, this system and its moisture field will likely arrive in the Mid-Atlantic region.