Advertisement
Motherboard

The Strongest Hurricane Ever Recorded Hit Mexico Last Night

The category 5 storm was downgraded to a tropical storm after hitting land.

by Melissa Cronin
Oct 24 2015, 3:41pm

Photo: NASA/NOAA

The storm that was called the "strongest hurricane on record" and "potentially catastrophic" made landfall Friday night, barreling the Pacific coast of Mexico with rain and 165 mph winds.

In a stroke of good fortune for the residents of Cuixmala and Puerto Vallarta, the storm decreased in intensity over the night and has since been downgraded from a powerful Category 5 hurricane to a tropical storm.

On Saturday morning, no deaths or major damage were reported—surprising news after meteorologists' predictions about the largest storm to ever make landfall.

Tens of thousands of residents and tourists were evacuated before the storm made landfall, and Mexico's president issued several warnings telling residents to seek shelter and stay indoors.

It may have been downgraded, but the storm is still dangerous, officials say. The threat of flooding, too is extremely strong, with heavy rains still battering the region.

Interestingly, before landfall Patricia had gained speed nearly as quickly as it would decrease. While gaining 100 mph in 24 hours, the storm may have beaten the world record for fastest intensification, making it inch ever closer to the theoretical maximum strength for a tropical cyclone on the Earth.

This year's El Niño, an unusually warm phase of the El Niño Southern Oscillation that creates a band of warm water near the equator, was ranked as one of the strongest on record and is largely to blame for the enormity of the storm. The warming event is expected to create "major disruptions, widespread droughts and floods" this year.

The last time the Earth saw such a strong El Niño was from 1997 to 1998. The event created catastrophes that killed 30,000 people and caused $100 billion in damages, atmospheric scientist Kevin Trenberth told Bloomberg.

And of course, the driving forces behind the storm, like many others in recent years, have most likely been intensified by climate change. Under a warming climate, the strongest storms are only getting stronger, scientists say. This year, which has already earned the record for the hottest temperatures on both land and ocean surfaces, has been a great breeding ground for large storms, giving them the hot temperatures and moisture they need to form.

As climate change worsens,
climate scientists say this effect is only expected to intensify, lasting longer and coming with stronger winds. If that theory holds, record-breaking superstorms like Patricia are about to become a lot less rare.