The most powerful hurricane ever recorded in the eastern Pacific will make a "potentially catastrophic landfall" in southwestern Mexico Friday, the National Weather Service says. Hurricane Patricia is bringing winds that now top 200 mph; it's expected to strike Friday afternoon or evening.
"This is the equivalent of a giant EF5 tornado spinning over the Pacific Ocean," says meteorologist Travis Herzog of ABC-13 TV in Houston. "If Patricia maintains anything near this intensity at landfall in Mexico today, it will be unimaginably catastrophic."
The storm is currently projecting hurricane-force winds up to 30 miles from its center.
Update at 11:45 a.m. ET: Strongest Winds In Small Area
From a Hurricane Center update: "At this time, the Category 5 winds are occurring over a very small area near the center - about 15 miles across. A NOAA Hurricane Hunter aircraft is scheduled to investigate Patricia before landfall to see what changes in intensity and structure have occurred."
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When it makes landfall, forecasters believe Patricia will be on a north-northeast track — sending it over Mexico and into southern Texas, where it could bring dangerous amounts of rain in a short period of time over the weekend.
The Category 5 storm has forced evacuations in Puerto Vallarta and other areas along Mexico's coast. Forecasters say that in addition to destructive winds, Patricia could bring dangerous flash flooding and mudslides.
A hurricane warning is in effect from San Blas, a town nearly 100 miles north of Puerto Vallarta, to Punta San Telmo, more than 300 miles to the south. The storm was moving at 10 mph, according to the latest data from the National Hurricane Center.
"Patricia is expected to produce total rainfall accumulations of 8 to 12 inches, with isolated maximum amounts of 20 inches," the National Hurricane Center says, "over the Mexican states of Nayarit, Jalisco, Colima, Michoacan and Guerrero through Saturday."
The center adds that the storm will also bring "an extremely dangerous storm surge" to its landfall site.
"After landfall, a combination of the mountainous terrain of Mexico and increasing shear should cause the cyclone to rapidly weaken," the National Hurricane Center says, "with the system likely to dissipate completely after 36 hours."