Hurricane Willa, A 'Life-Threatening' Category 4, Nears Mexico's Western Coast

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Updated 9:15 a.m. ET

Hurricane Willa, which has weakened after briefly ramping up to a Category 5 storm, remains “extremely dangerous” and is poised to bring “life-threatening storm surge, wind and rainfall” to Mexico’s Pacific Coast on Tuesday, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Willa, with maximum sustained winds of 130 mph, is about 55 miles from Las Islas Marias — or about 130 miles west of Puerto Vallarta. Still heading north, the storm’s speed has slowed to 5 mph, the latest NHC’s advisory says. Despite its weakening, it will be a “dangerous major hurricane” when it makes landfall.

“A turn toward the north- northeast is expected later this morning, followed by a faster motion toward the northeast by this evening,” the hurricane center said.

The NHC forecasts the storm will move near or over Las Islas Marias early Tuesday before making landfall along Mexico’s west-central coast Tuesday afternoon or evening. Hurricane conditions will arrive in warning areas by Tuesday afternoon.

“Preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion,” the NHC said Tuesday at 5 a.m. ET.

An “extremely dangerous” storm surge is likely along parts of the southwestern Mexico coast, the NHC says, especially “near and to the south of where the center” of the storm makes landfall. In coastal regions, the surge will be accompanied by large, destructive waves.

Willa is expected to dump 6 to 12 inches of rainfall, with local amounts to 18 inches, across portions of western Mexico, including western Jalisco, western Nayarit, southern Sinaloa and far southern Durango in Mexico. “This rainfall will cause life-threatening flash flooding and landslides,” the NHC says.

A hurricane warning remains in effect for 180 miles of Mexican Pacific coast between San Blas and the resort town of Mazatlan. Hundreds more miles of coast are under a tropical storm warning, from north of Mazatlan to Bahia Tempehuaya and San Blas to Playa Perula.

By Tuesday morning, Willa had degraded somewhat, with its 130-mph winds making it a low-end Category 4 storm on the Saffir-Simpson wind scale. When it makes landfall, forecasters say, it will be at least a Category 3 storm — meaning its winds could range from 111-129 mph.

The storm has grown sharply since Saturday morning, it became a tropical depression. Hours later, it became the 21st named storm of the Eastern Pacific season. And by Sunday morning, it was a quickly strengthening hurricane.

Preparation efforts in Mexico have been steadily under way since Monday. The AP reports that between 7,000 to 8,000 people are being evacuated in the low-lying regions of Sinaloa state, which sit amid farmland nestled between the ocean and lagoons.

Antonio Echevarria, governor of the western state of Nayarit, told Reuters more than 10,000 residents were being evacuated. Classes were cancelled in schools in much of Nayarit.

“Let’s not play the macho. Let’s not act like superheroes,” he told Reuters. “It’s a very strong hurricane, very potent, and we don’t want any tragedies.”

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has said that he ordered the National Civil Protection System to prepare to help people who suffer during the storm.

Emergency declarations have been issued in nearly 20 cities in the states of Nayarit and Sinaloa, and ports are closed in Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, Mazatlan and other areas, according to newspaper El Dictamen.

Ominously dark rain clouds began swirling inland over states in the southwestern and west-central Mexican coast Tuesday morning. By then, large waves had already begun hitting parts of the shore. Around 9 a.m. ET, the airport in Manzanillo reported a sustained wind of 40 mph, Mexico’s National Meteorological Service reported.

After the hurricane makes landfall, it is expected to dissipate over Mexico’s high terrain, the NHC says. But the center adds that remnants of the storm will likely “spread northeastward over northern Mexico and portions of Texas where a swath of heavy rainfall is expected midweek.”

This year is now tied with 1992 for the second-highest number of major hurricanes in a single Northeast Pacific season. First place belongs to 2015, which had 11 major hurricanes.

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