Hurricane Willa, currently churning about 155 miles south-southwest of Las Islas Marías in Mexico, has strengthened to a “potentially catastrophic” Category 5 storm, the highest level of the Saffir-Simpson scale, the National Hurricane Center said Monday.
Willa is expected to dump up to 18 inches of rain over parts of Mexico and produce a life-threatening storm surge, the agency said in its latest advisory. Willa has maximum sustained winds of 160 miles an hour and is moving north at about 7 miles an hour.
The storm is expected to move over or close to the Islas Marías early Tuesday, before making landfall along the southwestern coast of mainland Mexico later in the day.
“Some strengthening is still possible today,” said the NHC. “Slight weakening is forecast to begin on Tuesday, but Willa is expected to be an extremely dangerous major hurricane when it reaches the coast of Mexico.”
A hurricane warning is in effect for the region stretching from San Blas to Mazatlán, while a tropical storm warning is in effect for Playa Perula to San Blas and North of Mazatlán to Bahía Tempehuaya.
The storm could lead to greater rainfall over Texas and the northern Gulf Coast by late Wednesday and into Thursday, according to the Weather Channel. Mexico is likely to experience dangerous flash floods and landslides in areas hit hardest by rain.
Willa is only the fourth eastern Pacific hurricane ever to strengthen to Category 5 in October based on data that go back to 1971, according to the Weather Channel. The others were Patricia, in 2015; Rick, in 2009; and Kenna, in 2002.
Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Vicente was churning about 365 miles southeast of Manzanillo in Mexico, according to a separate advisory. That storm had maximum sustained winds of 45 miles an hour and was moving west-northwest at 12 miles an hour. Vicente was “looking less organized” on Monday, according to the NHC, but was still expected to cause flooding in parts of southern Mexico.
Florida is still cleaning up after the devastation caused by Hurricane Michael earlier this month. That storm caused 1 million people to lose power as it blasted its way across the state, destroying buildings and crops and downing power poles.
The rainfall from Michael added to the damage already caused by Hurricane Florence, a slow- moving 350-mile-wide storm that drenched the Carolinas in September, killing at least 50 people and damaging hundreds and thousands of homes.