Hurricane Willa, a dangerous Category 4 storm, is getting close to Mexico. The eye is currently battering a group of small islands off the country’s west coast, then it will head to the mainland late this afternoon/early evening.
As of 11 a.m. EDT, Willa’s maximum sustained winds were measured at 130 mph with strong gusts. Tropical storm force winds of 39 to 73 mph extend up to 125 miles from the eye, far enough away to reach the resort city of Puerto Vallarta. According to NBC, many hotel guests have left the area.
A Hurricane Warning remains in effect for almost 180 miles of Mexico’s Pacific coast between San Blas and the resort town of Mazatlan. Hurricane force winds of at least 74 mph will kick in for this stretch of coastline this afternoon. Hundreds more miles of coast are under a Tropical Storm Warning from north of Mazatlan to Bahia Tempehuaya, and from San Blas to Playa Perula, which includes Puerto Vallarta.
Forecaster at the National Hurricane Center say Willa’s winds could weaken to the Category 3 range before making landfall (111-129 mph), but this would still considered a major storm and will do a lot of damage.
Preparation have been under way since Monday. The AP reports that 7,000 to 8,000 people are being evacuated from the low-lying regions of Sinaloa state, which sit among farmland nestled between the ocean and lagoons.
Antonio Echevarria, governor of the western state of Nayarit, told Reuters more than 10,000 residents were being evacuated. Classes were cancelled in schools in much of Nayarit.
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has said that he ordered the National Civil Protection System to prepare to help people who suffer during the storm.
Emergency declarations have been issued in nearly 20 cities in the states of Nayarit and Sinaloa, and ports are closed in Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, Mazatlan and other areas, according to newspaper El Dictamen.
Besides widespread power outages, Willa will produce large waves and extremely dangerous storm surge pushing onshore. Willa is expected to produce rainfall totals of 6 to 12 inches, with local amounts to 18 inches, across portions of western Jalisco, western Nayarit, southern
Sinaloa, and far southern Durango in Mexico. This rainfall will cause life-threatening flash flooding and landslides.
Farther inland, Willa is expected to produce rainfall amount of 2 to 4 inches across the rest of Durango and portions of Zacateca, southeast Chihuahua, and Coahuila, with local amounts to 6 inches possible.
After landfall, Willa will cross central Mexico and weaken substantially. However, the storm could spread rain across Texas and the U.S. Gulf Coast on Wednesday, Thursday, and possibly part of Friday. Rain will be heavy with areas of localized flooding possible. This will be especially bad for central Texas which flooded last week, and for people cleaning up in the Florida panhandle after Hurricane Michael.