Hurricane Patricia breaks records and threatens Mexico and Texas

In only 24 hours, the strongest hurricane on record was born. Hurricane Patricia, which dumped devastating rains over Central Mexico and blasted 200 mile-per-hour sustained winds Friday evening and Saturday morning, had a central pressure two millibars lower than Hurricane Wilma, the previous record holder. Wilma struck the Yucatan Peninsula and moved on to the Texas coast during the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season in the same oceanic conditions that brought Rita and Katrina. The best that Texas meteorologists could say of Patricia is thank goodness it was in the Pacific, and made landfall in a relatively rural area.


As the worst of Patricia struck an area near Cuixmala and moved inland over the weekend, the storm was expected to present catastrophic conditions to a major swath of the Pacific Mexican coast. Communities near the ocean and just inland were susceptible to a tremendous flash flooding threat from a projected downpour of 10 to 12 inches of rain, widespread power outages and downed trees. Rainfall in the mountains was expected to collect in valleys and rush downhill to low-lying areas, swelling waterways further.

weatherHowever, CNN reports that Mexico dodged a bullet. Tourists and poor communities were evacuated well ahead of the storm, and in spite of the threat of devastation, there were no reported deaths. When Patricia made landfall, the storm rapidly weakened as it crossed the Sierra Madre, and meteorologists downgraded its status to a low pressure system with wind speeds averaging 35 miles per hour. Storms this strong usually bring down communication infrastructure that must be rebuilt, said David Paul, KHOU-11 Chief Meteorologist.

rainfall totals

Source: The Weather Channel

Texas didn’t see hurricane conditions, but residents throughout the state received heavy rainfall. As the storm crossed the mountains and its energy was pushed further up into the atmosphere, it carried with it weekend rainfall totals averaging 12 inches for the state. West and Central Texas endured flooding conditions Friday morning and areas from Victoria to San Antonio and further north into Austin, Waco and Dallas witnessed widespread heavy rainfall, all caused by the disturbance of Patricia’s forward march.


By the time the storm reached the U.S., its power was significantly weakened. For Houston, Patricia meant flash flooding conditions. The city saw more than seven inches of rain over the rest of the weekend. Communities along the coast experienced strong, gale-force winds and an increase in coastal flooding threat.

“The major threats are flooding,” Paul said. “Because it will still have a tremendous amount of vorticity or twist, there will be a tornado threat that will last through Sunday and into early Monday.”

With a storm this powerful, the best advice is to get out of the way. Upwards of 50,000 people in Mexico evacuated, and still more were affected by dangerous conditions.

Scientifically speaking, Patricia was “a beauty,” Paul said. It had a strong, well-defined eyewall and formed in ideal conditions.


“We’re in an El Niño year, and it’s the strongest ever measured,” Paul said. “The sea surface temperatures are above normal, so the storm has plenty of warm water (to fuel it). What has allowed Patricia to become so strong is a lack of wind shear. The upper-level winds were perfect for tropical storm development. No wind shear allows it to ‘bomb out.’ That’s a term we use to mean strengthening rapidly. It went from 65 mile-an-hour winds to a 160-mile-an-hour Category 5 hurricane in 24 hours!”

Imagine poking your head out of an Indy 500 race car shooting down the track. That’s what it’s like to feel sustained winds of 200 mph. Structures in its path, even those on foundations are all likely to have been flattened.


Comparing historical data from Galveston, meteorologists believe the hurricane that laid ruin to the Texas coast in 1900 was probably a Category 4. Winds reached between 140 and 145 miles an hour in that storm, and Hurricane Katrina topped out at 175 mph. At 200 mph, Patricia seems to defy the five-category Saffir—Simpson Scale with its outstanding wind speed, and even Paul admits this storm may require its own category, but that doesn’t mean it’s the strongest that could ever have occurred.

 “We don’t have a special section to put it in, but we’ve only been measuring these hurricanes since about the 1970s,” Paul said. “There may have been stronger ones.”

That said, there are some other distinctions to make. The high winds only occur at the eyewall, diminishing further out. And Paul hesitated to use the storm’s historical strength as evidence of any significant global trends.

“I don’t see that. El Niño may be one of the factors, the warming of the Pacific waters a little above normal,” Paul said. “I just see this as a storm that got in the right place at the right time with the upper-level winds.”


So should Americans be worried about hurricanes of Patricia’s magnitude forming in the Atlantic this season? Paul had an answer for that, too.

“We’re nearing the end of the season, but it doesn’t end until November 31. If you live on the coast, that’s the price. The price you pay is to be prepared for hurricanes to come along every once in a while.”

Residents of Texas and Mexico alike are urged to monitor the weather all weekend long using whatever resources are available. KHOU-11 will keep an eye on the storm 24/7 and will provide updates on its progress on Facebook, Twitter and on the Web.

Do not drive in flash flood conditions. If you must, take extreme caution. Remember to turn around, don’t drown. Get to higher ground.

When the storm has passed, learn more about how the weather is broadcast at the Houston Museum of Natural Science at the KHOU-11 Do the Weather with Chita Johnson exhibit.

Stay safe!

Intergalactic planet hoppers land at HMNS Sugar Land with Zula Patrol: Mission Weather

Do the names Bula, Multo, Zeeter, Wizzy or Wigg mean anything to you? They will after a visit to HMNS Sugar Land’s latest exhibit, Zula Patrol: Mission Weather, which teaches kids aged from pre-kindergarten to the third grade and beyond all about Earth’s weather systems with hands-on, interactive activities.

Zula Patrol: Mission Weather opens at HMNS Sugar Land Feb. 8!

Starting this Friday, this band of intergalactic fact-gatherers (as they’re called) will teach visitors about weather phenomena like clouds, precipitation, wind and temperature.

Based on the popular educational television program of the same name, the Zula Patrol museum exhibition aims to promote an understanding of and an interest in science and astronomy with character-driven storytelling.

Zula Patrol: Mission Weather is on exhibit at HMNS Sugar Land until May 27. For tickets, click here.

Explore: Snow Science [12 Days of HMNS]

Hello, holidays! Today is the First Day of HMNS – for the next 12 days, we’ll be featuring another fun video of a holiday museum activity here on the blog (or, you can get a sneak peek at all the videos on – we won’t tell).

For our first video, we wondered about snow – something we were shocked to see falling here in Houston on Dec. 4 – the earliest recorded snowfall in local history. So, we asked Gene Norman, Chief Meteorologist at KHOU, to explain a few things. Like: why is snow white? Are all snowflakes really unique? And – will we see snow falling in Houston again this year?

Click play to see for yourself!

Visit the Gene Norman Weather Center at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, a one-of-a-kind interactive exhibit, where kids and parents can conduct a live weather forecast in precisely the same manner as Norman does on the local news each evening.

Get into the holiday spirit! Visit our 12 Days of HMNS web site to see the videos and get more information about each event, exhibit and film!

Happy Holidays!

Science Doesn’t Sleep (8.28.08)

Box Turtle Closeup
Creative Commons License photo credit: audreyjm529

So here’s what went down after you logged off.

Paleontologists have found the fossil of a 75-million year old pregnant turtle – something that has never before been found.

We’re lucky to have the Gueymard telescope – one of the largest in the country for public viewing – right in our backyard. But looking into the heavens wasn’t always so easy. Check out this list of 20 things you didn’t know about telescopes.

Are we giving robots too much power? The Onion weighs in.

Now we play the guessing game: what will happen with Hurricane Gustav?

Photos: a new statue of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius has just been uncovered in Turkey.