The National Hurricane Center's (NHC) 4 a.m. discussion of eastern Pacific Hurricane Patricia plainly stated why the storm is terrifying: Patricia has been recorded with 200+ m.p.h. winds at the surface and is "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." And the gorgeous Mexican resort town of Puerto Vallarta may be in the monster storm's crosshairs.
A BBC report on storm preparations on Mexico's Pacific coast made a sobering comparison to underscore Hurricane Patricia's deadly potential: "The storm is comparable to Typhoon Haiyan, which killed 6,300 people in the Philippines in 2013, the World Meteorological Organization says."
CNN's article about the storm could only cite Hurricane Camille as an example of an equally deadly storm, which smashed into the U.S. Gulf Coast in 1969, killing over 250.
The kind of damage that can come from a Category 5 storm with wind gusts of more than 250 m.p.h. is hard to imagine without resorting to recalling scenes from disaster films. The NHC's Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale description is chilling and concise:
Catastrophic damage will occur: A high percentage of framed homes will be destroyed, with total roof failure and wall collapse. Fallen trees and power poles will isolate residential areas. Power outages will last for weeks to possibly months. Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months.
CNN's report on Patricia added apocalyptic notes, stating that in addition to a cataclysmic storm surge "Patricia is expected to dump 8 to 12 inches of rain—and possibly 20 inches in some spots—along the Mexican coast." The NHC says these conditions are likely to cause dangerous flash-floods as well as mudslides.
Patricia's winds will diminish a great deal as it crosses Mexico's mountainous interior, but Texas will still see severe conditions. ABC Houston's meteorologist Travis Herzog said in a Facebook post that some Texans will see "[extreme] weekend rain and life-threatening flash floods for parts of the state, especially Saturday night and Sunday."
Herzog and the NHC both gave shout-outs to the heroes flying the Air Force's hurricane hunting aircraft into the heart of such an astonishing storm. Herzog wrote that the Hurricane Hunters "have NEVER flown in a storm this strong before!!!"
"Overnight," he continued, "these brave men measured 200mph winds inside Hurricane Patricia, shattering all kinds of world records."
As Herzog noted, Hurricane Patricia is akin to a vast EF5 tornado.
It's a terrifying storm, but we have to admit the fact that there are people brave enough to point a plane into the heart of the maelstrom just to take measurements and report back to forecasters is awesome in its own right.
Hurricane Patricia is expected to make landfall sometime Friday night. Let's hope everyone is out of the way or in the strongest shelter imaginable by then.
Photos by NOAA