CNN is calling Hurricane Patricia “The Most Dangerous Hurricane in History.” Another news outlet showed a picture of the hurricane and pointed out “The Enormous Size of Hurricane Patricia.”
Both of these are wrong. Size matters with hurricanes. A category 5 hurricane that is twice as large as another category 5 hurricane is “more dangerous” all else being equal, and by “all else” I mean things like exactly where it hits, how fast it is moving, exactly how strong it is (category 5 includes a very wide range of wind speeds because it is the highest category). Hurricane Patricia is not huge.
Patricia is very dangerous, has a very low pressure center and very strong winds, both being at or near record breaking levels. But the hurricane is small. Here’s a VERY rough size comparison between two of the well known and very large hurricanes that I just slapped together:
The larger hurricanes will cover more area with their dangerous winds, may have a more extensive storm tide, and will very likely bring a lot more rain inland. Patricia will do very bad things where it makes landfall, which is actually happening as I write this, but that area will be smaller than a Katrina like hurricane. And it will bring a fair amount of water inland, but not nearly as much as a monster like Haiyan would have.
So yes, take Patricia seriously. But I expect to see a lot of yammering after the fact, from certain factions, about how everyone was being very alarmist about Patricia when in the end it was not a Katrina.
So let it be understood. Patricia is no Katrina. But it is impressive in its own way.
On Twitter, people are shocked and amazed that Hurricane Patricia turned into a tropical storm. Some had prayed to god and now claim those prayers were answered. There is at least one claim of a death on Twitter, but The Twitter Lies, and this is probably someone’s sick idea of a joke.
Naturally, what happened is Patricia made landfall as a very compact hurricane in a region with very few people, but as a strong category five hurricane. It had the highest sustained winds, and the lowest pressure ever observed for a hurricane, but again, Patricia was a small hurricane, not a monster. It was almost like Patricia was pretending to be a tornado.
And, since it came on quickly, and had some unusual characteristics, and was badly reported by almost all major media including the meteorological media, Patricia will now join cousins Sandy and Katrina in the ranks of the Most Misunderstood Hurricanes.
It is not over until it is over, and the storm is still moving across Mexico where it plans to hook up with a Gulf system and cross the border, Donald Trump be dammed, to hose Texas with major rains. In the mean time we’ll have to see what the storm does in the Mexican highlands. Watch the news reports.
Update, Friday PM:
We probably won’t know much until morning, but Hurricane Patricia’s eye has made landfall and the hurricane is falling apart.
This image from The Wundermap shows the last IR satellite image that clearly shows an eye just before it came ashore.
The part of the hurricane running from the eye to the right is where the strongest storm surge and strongest winds will be. You may have seen videos on the Weather Channel and CNN from Manzanillo, the nearest large settlement (see below for more details) but that is actually pretty far from the eye of this relatively compact storm. It looks pretty windy and rainy in those videos, but I’d be more worried about Costga Careyes, Emiliano Zapata, La Manzanilla, and San Patricio, especially anywhere where there are harbors or bays that might concentrate a storm surge. Here’s a rough drawing of where that eye is, and the zone to the right of the eye where the storm will pack the most punch:
Update, Friday PM
I updated the graphic above.
Odd point: I’m seeing news stories talking about the “giant size of hurricane Patricia.” Why is the press so dumb?
This is a very very strong, record breaking hurricane. It is not, however, giant.
Patricia is not big, as in area covered, but has very low pressure and very fast winds. Depending on context, Patricia has broken or nearly broken a number of records, but this is all very complicated because some of the records are hard to pin down. For example, several hurricanes from the 50s and 60s had higher wind speeds than we have seen since, but we now know that the methods for measuring wind speed in a powerful hurricane were not adequate at the time, and most hurricane experts assume all those numbers are at least 10 mph or so too high. If that is the case, Patricia may have the fastest winds ever recorded. Patricia will end up bing in the top five (or should I say lowest five) in terms of pressure. Also, very few other hurricanes did something Patricia did: The storm turned from a tropical storm to a category five hurricane in less than 24 hours. That is just plain astonishing. Weather experts around the world are in shock.
Putting it another way, Patricia is doing some stuff we didn’t really think hurricanes do, even though a few have done here an there. This is a little like this year’s hurricanes globally; we are breaking records all the time in terms of numbers, size, strength, how many going at once, and all that. The combination of hurricane favoring conditions caused by global warming and the extra boost this year from El Nino is producing quite a bit of storm activity.
It does look like the general vicinity of Manzanillo is the most significant populated area near the most likely landfall. Hurricanes are bigger than cities, of course, and the details matter. In case you don’t know much about Manzanillo, here’s some information from Wikipedia:
Manzanillo is a city, seat of Manzanillo Municipality, in the Mexican state of Colima. The city, located on the Pacific Ocean, contains Mexico’s busiest port that is responsible for handling Pacific cargo for the Mexico City area. It is the largest producing municipality for the business sector and tourism in the state of Colima.
The city is known as the “Sailfish Capital of the World”.  Since 1957, it has hosted important national and international fishing competitions, such as the Dorsey Tournament, making it a very attractive fishing destination. Manzanillo has become one of the country’s most important tourist resorts, and its excellent hotels and restaurants continue to meet the demands of both national and international tourism.
The main part of the storm is coming ashore now, as seen in this satellite image:
Videos and twitter reports from Manzanillo indicate strong winds and heavy rain.
Update, Friday Mid Morning:
The National Weather Service thinks Patricia will make landfall in around 12 hours, but tropical strength conditions are already developing on the coast.
Paul Douglas told me that this is the fastest he’s ever seen a hurricane develop.
The storm surge for this hurricane is expected to be very serious. If you look at the Mexican coast in this area, highlands start right after the coast and there are several small to medium size settlements sitting, in some cases, along small embayments. The worst case scenario is that the hurricane does in fact strengthen, as expected, and the right front punch of the storm aims directly into one of these embayments, flooding the settled area.
The NWS is saying this morning that “Residents in low-lying areas near the coast in the hurricane warning area should evacuate immediately, since the storm surge could be catastrophic near and to the east of where the center makes landfall.”
Sustained winds will be about 200 mph, with gusts of 250 mph.
Coastal and off shore waves will be very high (this is aside from the storm surge).
The dome of water being brought to shore by the storm ranges from 15-25 feet in height, and this could be concentrated in some areas by terrain. The most likely ground zero for a major storm surge may be the vicinity of Manzanillo. It is recommended that areas below about 20 feet elevation be totally evacuated, as there is the possibility of total destruction in those areas. But this “ground zero” could move.
The graphic above shows the most likely are of landfall, but watch this closely because the track could move. The most likely direction of a shift is probably to the north.
Once the storm lurches inland, it will dissipate quickly and turn into a big wet thing, that will drop a LOT of rain in hilly or mountainous areas. The highest death tolls from hurricanes tend to come from flooding inland, and with this sort of terrain, serious inland flooding and significant landslides are inevitable.
After the storm “dissipates” it is likely to join up with a cyclonic system forming in the Gulf. This will cause a major storm in the northwestern Gulf of Mexico. Parts of Texas and Louisiana could get a foot of rain or more, with further significant rain across a much larger region including Oklahoma and Arkansas, starting over the weekend and into early next week.
Holy cow, man. Patricia, an Eastern Pacific Hurricane, became what is probably the strongest hurricane ever recorded by the National Weather Service in the NWS Hurricane Center’s area of responsibility (AOR), which consists of the Atlantic and the Eastern Pacific.
The storm is heading straight for Mexico. This is serious.
There are various ways to measure hurricanes. Maximum wind speed, central pressure (lower is badder), overall size (of hurricane force wind field), and overall total strength (using one of a couple of different metrics). Although weather forecasters and normal people tend to focus on wind speed hurricane experts are more impressed with central pressure. These things are all related, of course. But Patricia is the strongest hurricane with respect to its central pressure, and winds.
From the NWS:
Data from three center fixes by the Hurricane Hunters indicate that the intensity, based on a blend of 700 mb-flight level and SFMR-observed surface winds, is near 175 kt. This makes Patricia 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. The minimum central pressure estimated from the aircraft data, 880 mb, is the lowest ever for our AOR. It seems incredible that even more strengthening could occur before landfall later today, but recent microwave imagery shows hints of a concentric eyewall developing. If the trend toward an eyewall replacement continues, it would cause the intensity to at least level off later today. The official forecast shows only a little more strengthening before landfall. Given the very mountainous terrain that Patricia should encounter after landfall, the cyclone should weaken even faster over land than predicted by the normal inland decay rate.
The storm will hit Mexico as a strong category 5, the kind of category 5 that makers you wonder why there is not a cateory 6, TODAY (Friday). Incredibly, the storm is expected to get STRONGER before that happens. Winds will reach 200 miles per hour before landfall.
Huge coastal waves, a huge storm surge, intensive inland flooding are expected. This is a catastrophe unfolding.