Agatha intensifies into a Cat 1 hurricane as it eyes Mexico
May 15 marks the beginning of the central and east Pacific hurricane season.
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The East Pacific's first named storm of the year -- Agatha -- strengthened into a hurricane Sunday morning as it closed in on the southern Mexico coastline. AccuWeather meteorologists have rated Agatha a 2 on the AccuWeather RealImpact™ Scale for Hurricanes as a result of the storm's damaging winds and significant flooding threat in Mexico.
Within six hours of being designated Tropical Depression One-E by the National Hurricane Center late Friday, Tropical Storm Agatha formed early Saturday morning amid a cluster of showers and thunderstorms in the East Pacific. Winds within the center of the storm stood at 70 mph (113 km/h) at 4 a.m. CDT Sunday, just shy of Category 1 hurricane status (maximum sustained winds of 74-95 mph, or 119-153 km/h).
Hurricane Agatha can be seen on AccuWeather's Enhanced RealVue™ Satellite Sunday morning, May 29, 2022. (AccuWeather)
Forecasters say the system will remain in an environment conducive for continued strengthening up until it moves onshore in Mexico. By Monday morning, Agatha is forecast to reach Category 2 hurricane strength (maximum sustained winds of 96-110 mph, or 154-177 km/h).
Agatha is expected to make landfall as Monday evening along the southern coast of Mexico in the state of Oaxaca. If the storm makes landfall at Category 2 or higher intensity, it would be the strongest May hurricane to ever make landfall in the eastern Pacific basin.
Sea-surface temperatures in the area are more than sufficient for continued strengthening, and as of Sunday, the ocean water in this part of the Pacific Ocean was around 86 degrees Fahrenheit (30 degrees Celsius). At a minimum, a sea-surface temperature of 79-80 F (26-27 C) is needed for the formation and maintenance of tropical systems. In addition, wind shear in the area is very light across this part of the basin, which will also contribute to the strengthening of the storm.
Hurricane Warnings have been hoisted along the southern coast of Mexico from Salina Cruz to Lagunas de Chacahua.
"Hurricane-force winds are expected near where the storm makes landfall along Mexico's southern coastline, which can lead to downed trees, power lines and structural damage," Dan Pydynowski, a senior meteorologist at AccuWeather who frequently issues tropical outlooks for the Atlantic and East Pacific basin, said.
An AccuWeather Local StormMax™ wind gust of 115 mph (185 km/h) is forecast near where the center of Agatha moves onshore. Anyone without adequate shelter from these fierce winds may be subject to flying debris.
These strong winds can also kick up dangerous surf along the entire southern coast of Mexico, making it dangerous for swimmers to enter the water and for boaters to venture offshore.
In addition to large and destructive waves, a storm surge of up to 6 feet (1.8 meters) can produce coastal flooding near and to the east of where the center of Agatha moves onshore.
"Flooding rainfall is expected to be one of the biggest impacts across southern Mexico and parts of Central America," Pydynowski said.
Heavy rain is likely to pour down from Acapulco to Oaxaca and Tehuacán, Mexico, from late Sunday into Tuesday, posing a significant risk to life and property.
"The heaviest rain will fall across the Mexican states of Oaxaca and Chiapas, causing flash flooding mudslides and road closures," Pydynowski said.
These life-threatening dangers will be heightened in areas of mountainous terrain where steep slopes can give way once the ground becomes extremely saturated.
Rain amounts of 6 inches (150 mm) or more are expected to be widespread across southern Mexico from Sunday through Tuesday. Coastal portions of Oaxaca and Chiapas can expect the highest rain amounts of 8-12 inches (200-300 mm). Mountainous areas will be most likely to reach the AccuWeather Local StormMax™ of 28 inches (710 mm).
Agatha is a 2 on the AccuWeather RealImpact™ Scale for Hurricanes due to the intense wind gusts and flooding threat in Mexico.
For the 2022 East Pacific tropical season, AccuWeather forecasters are predicting a normal to above-normal hurricane season. Fifteen to 19 named storms are expected to form with the possibility of six to eight of them reaching hurricane force. The normal count of named storms in the basin is about 15 storms, with eight achieving hurricane status.
AccuWeather meteorologists will be closely monitoring the leftover energy from Agatha as it crosses Mexico and enters the Bay of Campeche during the first days of June. Here, it there is a chance it could redevelop into the Atlantic basin's first named storm.
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