Hurricane Patricia Makes Landfall, Mexico Escapes Major Damage
BOSTON, Oct. 25, 2015 - Catastrophe modeling firm AIR Worldwide estimates that insured losses to onshore properties in Mexico from Hurricane Patricia are not to exceed USD 200 million (MXN 3.3billion). Six hours before Hurricane Patricia made landfall in the Mexican state of Jalisco, it was the most intense tropical cyclone ever recorded by the National Hurricane Center (NHC) in their domain (the Atlantic and East Pacific ocean basins). Fortunately,hurricanes cannot sustain such extreme intensity for long and by the time Patricia reached the coast-about 55 miles west-northwest of Manzanillo-maximum sustained winds had fallen from 200 mph to 165 mph. (Note that a 185 mph sustained wind speed was recorded by a weather station in Cuixmala, but the NHC has warned that the observation has not been confirmed.) Still a Category 5 storm on the Saffir-Simpson wind intensity scale at landfall, however,Hurricane Patricia brought powerful winds, torrential rains, and damaging storm surge to a relatively sparsely populated stretch of the Jalisco coastline.
According to the NHC, Patricia made landfall at around 6:15 p.m.CDT on Friday, October 23, near the town of Cuixmala in Jalisco state in southwestern Mexico, between the resort city of Puerto Vallarta and the major port city of Manzanillo. Although the hurricane looked very impressive in satellite imagery prior to landfall, the wind field was relatively small. Category 5 wind speeds extended just 15 miles from the center of the storm and hurricane-force winds extended outward just 35 miles from the eye.
Patricia's forward speed at landfall was 20 mph and this fast movement helped to limit rainfall accumulation. As the storm moved inland, it began to weaken as it interacted with Mexico's mountainous terrain, although it was still a Category 3 hurricane five hours after landfall, with sustained winds of 120 mph. The NHC officially downgraded Patricia to tropical storm status on Saturday morning and then to a tropical low a few hours later.
In addition to its record-breaking wind speeds, Hurricane Patricia's minimum central pressure, at 879 mb, was the lowest recorded in the Atlantic and East Pacific basins, and it also holds the record for the fastest intensifying hurricane, dropping 100 mb in just 24 hours.
Fortunately, Hurricane Patricia did not make a direct hit on the coastal exposure concentrations of Puerto Vallarta or Manzanillo,which experienced much weaker winds and storm surge than were experienced in the vicinity of landfall. The storm also missed the major city of Guadalajara as it tracked inland.
Indications are that damage has not been as severe as had been feared, although a more complete picture will emerge as communications are reestablished and surveys are undertaken in mountainous inland locations. In the state of Jalisco, in the area nearest to landfall, roof coverings were peeled off by high winds and damage to non-structural elements such as awnings and signage was common. Dozens of small homes were flattened in the fishing village of Chamela.
According to AIR, some structural damage to homes and businesses occurred as a result of fallen trees; severe damage, however, has been limited. Many roads have been made impassible by debris or landslides, and hundreds of homes have been flooded, primarily in some high elevation locales. Several injuries have been reported,but thus far no fatalities. Mexican authorities had declared emergencies in the three coastal states of Jalisco, Nayarit, andColima prior to landfall. Resorts in Puerto Vallarta had been evacuated and schools were closed.
In addition to its small radius of maximum winds, the impact of the storm was tempered by the Sierra Madre Occidental Mountains, which shielded the more densely populated coastal exposures from widespread destruction that could have otherwise resulted from a strong Category 5 hurricane. Furthermore, Patricia's storm surge was limited because of its small size, the short amount of time it spent as an intense hurricane prior to landfall, and unfavorable coastal bathymetry. Emergency preparedness measures and evacuations ahead of the storm also reduced the impact of the hurricane.
It should be noted that the remnants of Patricia are bringing heavy rainfall into Texas and southwestern Louisiana, exacerbating flooding that has been occurring over the last several days.