Hurricane Agatha is barrelling toward a stretch of Mexico’s tourist destinations on the southwest coast, where the Category 3 storm was expected to make landfall by Monday afternoon or evening.
The US National Hurricane Center said by late Sunday night, Agatha, the first named storm of the season, had maximum sustained winds of 110mph (177kph), which is just 1mph shy of getting docked as a Category 3 storm.
Meteorologists tracked its path towards Puerto Escondido and Puerto Angel, two coastal towns who boast white sandy beaches and buzzing nightlife scenes, making them heavily reliant on the tourism industry.
Mexico’s Oaxaca state was expecting to be hit by up to 16 inches of rain, with some parts of the region expecting to receive a maximum of 20 inches, a prediction that began to spark fears of possible mudslides and flash floods.
Deadly mudslides brought on by heavy rainfall is something that the North American country is all too familiar with. In 2010, a mudslide in central Mexico killed 11 people suddenly, while in 2016, the heavy rains brought on by a downgraded Hurricane Earl still triggered multiple mudslides in the states of Puebla and Veracruz, and reportedly killed at least 39 people.
Meteorologists were also predicting that when Agatha makes its way across the Bay of Campeche, a southern bight in the Gulf of Mexico, in the next few days, it has the possibility of regaining strength and redeveloping as the first hurricane to strike the Atlantic for the season.
Officials within Mexico by Sunday had already begun sounding the alarm for the hurricane’s potential devastation, issuing warnings for boats and citizens to stay indoors.
In the municipal region of Huatulco, just 20km from the coast, authorities had ordered “the absolute closure” of all the beaches that play host to dozens of luxurious resorts. Schools were also closed in the region and emergency storm shelters were set up throughout the area.
This is the first named hurricane of the season and arrives just weeks after the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced that it would be another average season, the seventh of its kind in a row.
8pm EDT 29 May-- A large & complex area of low pressure is expected to form over Central America in a few days, related to the remnants of Hurricane Agatha in the Pacific.
There is low chance (30%) of TC formation within this system in the next 5 days.https://t.co/g9YgY32HIu pic.twitter.com/SK9IPq6HYn
— National Hurricane Center (@NHC_Atlantic) May 30, 2022
The agency predicted up to 21 named storms, where wind speeds over 63kph (39mph), and up to ten of them becoming hurricanes, where wind speeds reach over 199 kph (74 mph).
A busier than average hurricane season, such as what scientists are predicting for the 2022 season, is being driven by two main factors, according to the University of Colorado’s Tropical Meteorology Project. One is an absence of El Nino - a weather pattern where high winds sweep across the southern US and have been shown to help decrease tropical cyclone activity - and the second is the higher-than-average sea temperatures throughout the Atlantic Ocean.
Largely thanks to the latter, the world has now experienced some of the most active years on record in the last two decades, with 2020’s hurricane season becoming so busy, scientists were forced to dip into the Greek alphabet for naming after all but one of the 31 tropical or subtropical storms developed into a named storm.