Some of you may know this, but for those of you who don’t I always wanted to be a meteorologist, and I had a very specific goal in mind. I wanted to be the director of the National Hurricane Center. As a young child, I had a fascination with tropical weather. I loved the weather in general and I still do, but back then when the Weather Channel was new I would sit and watch it around the clock. The tropical update with John Hope would be my favorite part of the day, every hour at 10 minutes until the top. And even though these reports were often the same until new updates from the National Hurricane Center came in, I would watch and plot and try my best to forecast along with the best of them.
Watching the news this morning and learning that Hurricane Patricia is approaching the coast of southwestern Mexico as the strongest hurricane ever in the Atlantic or Eastern Pacific is mind-boggling. I mean, it sounds amazing but as someone with a deep interest in tropical weather who remembers watching the Weather Channel as Hurricanes Katrina and Andrew and Hugo hit, this storm is bigger and more powerful. It’s like a mistake – something that’s not supposed to happen.
A Category 5 storm, the strongest on the Saffir-Simpson scale, starts at 156 mph. As of this writing, Patricia’s maximum sustained winds are clocked at 200 mph with gusts to 245. It could strengthen a touch more before making landfall, but a hurricane with 200 mph sustained wind is something you just don’t see. And speaking of, the barometric pressure in the 7 a.m. advisory was 880 millibars or 25.99 inches. 25.99 inches!! Imagine Doc Brown running around yelling 1.21 gigawatts!
Let’s put this in perspective. At 880 MB/25.99 inches, Hurricane Patricia now holds the record for lowest pressure in any hurricane. The old record was 882 MB in Hurricane Wilma about 10 years ago to the day. The lowest barometric pressure ever recorded according to Guinness World Records was 870 millibars or 25.69 inches on Oct. 12, 1979 west of Guam in the eye of Super Typhoon Tip. No guarantees, but that record is in jeopardy. That’s incredible.
Hurricanes typically weaken rapidly once they begin interacting with land, because the fuel source – warm water – is turned off/interrupted. In the case of Patricia, the storm should weaken exceptionally rapidly because it will be moving over very mountainous terrain in central Mexico. Its rains will likely interact with another system over the Gulf of Mexico this weekend and early next week, bringing some heavy rain into Texas and along the Gulf coast.
— Scott Kelly (@StationCDRKelly) October 23, 2015
It is my sincerest wish that everyone along the coast of Mexico heeded these warnings as dire and have since evacuated to higher ground. It’s easy for people to be fooled into being complacent because forecasts aren’t always correct. There were plenty of people who refused to evacuate — or couldn’t evacuate — during Hurricane Katrina and we obviously know how devastating that was. It goes without saying that a hurricane coming ashore with 200+ mph winds will result in catastrophic damage from flooding and wind. Storm surge, the a rising of the sea as a result of atmospheric pressure changes and wind associated with a storm.