Major Hurricane Lidia racing toward Mexico, Puerto Vallarta

Trisha D.
7 Min Read

Hurricane Lidia, a strengthening Category 3 storm with sustained winds of 125 mph, is on course to roar ashore Tuesday night near Puerto Vallarta on Mexico’s west coast. The major hurricane is expected to unleash flooding rains, destructive winds and a dangerous ocean surge.

It will become the second storm to strike Mexico’s west coast in two days, following Max — a weaker disturbance — which made landfall Monday between Lázaro Cárdenas and Acapulco.

Ahead of Lidia, hurricane warnings are in effect along the coast from Novillero in the north to Manzanillo in the south, as well as for Las Islas Marias just offshore of the mainland. A tropical storm warning covers that area, running to Mazatlán in the north and Punta San Telmo in the south.

The resort city of Puerto Vallarta and nearby towns on Cabo Corrientes, a small cape to the southwest, are forecast to take a direct hit from the intensifying storm. It is possible that the storm strengthens even more before landfall, potentially reaching shore as a Category 4 hurricane with winds 130 mph or greater.

With the storm moving briskly toward the coast at 16 mph, and expected to speed up further, hurricane-force conditions develop near the coast Tuesday afternoon. The National Hurricane Center warned residents to rush their preparations to completion.

In anticipation of the storm, classes were canceled in communities near the coast, according to the Associated Press. The airport in Puerto Vallarta urged frequent communication with airlines if traveling to or from the popular vacation spot.

On Tuesday morning, the U.S. National Hurricane Center wrote that Lidia was intensifying and that environmental conditions support “further strengthening up until landfall.”

Water temperatures in the area are running in the mid- to upper 80s, or a few degrees above average and more than warm enough to support a powerful hurricane. Abnormally warm waters have been a factor in the rapid intensification of numerous storms right up to landfall in recent years.

A hurricane hunter flight early Tuesday afternoon found that Lidia was continuing to quickly strengthen.

“Data from an Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunter aircraft indicate that Lidia has strengthened rapidly and has maximum winds near 125 mph,” wrote the Hurricane Center in a special update.

Significant coastal flooding because of storm surge — the wind-driven rise in ocean water above normally dry land — is expected near and south of where the storm comes ashore. A life-threatening surge will produce waves of 5 to 10 feet, according to Mexico’s meteorological service. Rough seas will remain probable over the coming days, creating dangerous boating conditions and generating rip currents.

Rainfall of about 4 to 8 inches is projected near the landfall zone. Higher elevations or isolated spots near the coast could receive as much as a foot of rain.

“Heavy rains from Lidia will likely produce flash and urban flooding, along with possible mudslides in areas of higher terrain across the state of Nayarit, southern portions of the state of Sinaloa, and coastal portions of the state of Jalisco in western Mexico,” the Hurricane Center wrote.

Once on land, the storm should weaken fairly rapidly and be ripped apart by a dip in the jet stream to its north, although some of its remnants should be pulled northward toward the Gulf of Mexico.

Moisture from Lidia and from another disturbance in the gulf is predicted to be drawn toward the U.S. Gulf Coast states later this week, bringing much-needed rainfall to the parched region.

One-two punch during relatively active core season

Lidia comes on the heels of landfall by Tropical Storm Max several hundred miles to the south.

Max moved ashore Monday morning as a strengthening tropical storm with 65 mph sustained winds. The main impact from Max was heavy rainfall of around 5 to 10 inches. Significant flooding was observed in Acapulco and Tecpan de Galeana, and in other places in the states of Guerrero and Michoacan.

El Niño, a warming of waters in the equatorial Pacific, tends to lead to an active hurricane season in the eastern Pacific Ocean. This year has been less active than forecast, largely because of a very late start to El Niño; the first named storm did not form until late June.

Since that first storm, most days have featured ongoing storms in the region. The eight hurricanes that have developed in the eastern Pacific to date are a near-average number, with the five major hurricanes — including Category 5 Jova — being somewhat above average.

October is prime time for big storms to hit Mexico

Although El Niño seasons may produce more storms than others, the period from mid-September through October is the period when hurricanes usually hit Mexico’s west coast.

As in the cases of Lidia and Max, the reason Mexico faces more impacts from the west this time of year is that the summer subtropical high-pressure zone that often steers storms away starts to break down. This allows for incursions of dips in the jet stream from the north, helping to capture storms that mostly stay out to sea in the months prior.

The most recent October hurricane in Mexico was just last year, when Roslyn peaked at Category 4 and came ashore as a Category 3 about 100 miles north of Puerto Vallarta. A few weeks before that came Orlene, which struck south of Mazatlán.

During another strong El Niño like this year’s, Hurricane Patricia made landfall on Oct. 23, 2015, in Jalisco state. Before weakening somewhat as it approached land, the storm reached Category 5, with winds over 200 mph, and was one of the strongest ever observed on Earth.

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