Potentially catastrophic Category 4 Hurricane Willa nearing Mexico’s Pacific coast

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Hurricane Willa is nearing the Pacific coast of Mexico as a Category 4 storm, bringing the potential for life-threatening storm surge, wind and torrents of rain.

Willa weakened slightly Monday afternoon, but the National Hurricane Center warns it is still expected to be a dangerous major hurricane when it slams into Mexico’s central Pacific coast on Tuesday.

Willa’s maximum sustained winds ticked down from 160 mph to 155 mph, leaving the hurricane just 2 mph shy of Category 5 strength. Its current intensity is about the same as Hurricane Michael’s when it made landfall in Florida’s Panhandle less than two weeks ago.

The National Hurricane Center has marveled over Willa’s “explosive” strengthening since it formed over the weekend. It became a tropical storm on Saturday morning and was a Category 5 hurricane in less than two days. As of Monday morning, Willa had swelled by 80 mph in just 24 hours.

Willa is located about 135 miles south-southwest of Islas Marias, an archipelago off central Mexico’s Pacific coast. The hurricane is moving north at 8 mph and is forecast to move “over or very near” Islas Marias early Tuesday, according to the National Hurricane Center. Landfall on mainland Mexico is expected Tuesday afternoon or evening.

Storm surge accompanied by “large and destructive waves” are forecast along portions of Mexico’s central and southwestern coast. Dangerous surf and riptides are expected along the southern coast of Baja California late Monday.

Rainfall ranging from 6 to 12 inches could spawn life-threatening landslides and flash flooding in portions of the Mexican states of Jalisco, Nayarit and Sinaloa.

The hurricane is on track to be one of the strongest hurricanes to ever hit the Pacific coast of Mexico and its landfall will come three years to the day after the strongest, Hurricane Patricia, made landfall one state to the south, in Jalisco.

Hurricane Patricia went from a Category 5 to Category 4 when it made landfall, but at its peak, Patricia had winds of 215 mph and was the strongest hurricane or typhoon ever observed anywhere on the planet.

Mother Nature may give Mexico a bit of a break with another storm currently right behind Hurricane Walla. Tropical Storm Vicente is also expected to impact the country Tuesday, but farther south than Walla, and the weakening system may dissipate by the time it gets there, the National Hurricane Center said.

The back-to-back systems have helped make the 2018 hurricane season in the northeast Pacific one for the record books.

The season is now the most active hurricane season on record using a measurement called “Accumulated Cyclone Energy,” which combines the number of storms and their intensity through their lifetimes to give an overall measurement of tropical activity in a given region.

2018 has seen 10 major hurricanes, including Willa, which ties 1992 as the most major hurricanes seen in the northeast Pacific in one year.

Increasing numbers of major hurricanes, along with a greater propensity of storms to undergo “rapid intensification” are expected consequences of warmer ocean waters resulting from climate change. The ocean waters off the western coast of Mexico are running 1-2 degrees Fahrenheit above average for late October.

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