Hurricane Agatha made landfall at 4 p.m. CT Monday just west of Puerto Angel, Mexico, with maximum sustained winds of 105 mph, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center.
This is the earliest a Category 2 storm has made landfall along Mexico’s Pacific Coast.
The National Hurricane Center warned of “extremely dangerous” coastal flooding from storm surge and “life-threatening” hurricane-force winds in the state Oaxaca. Heavy rains are expected to continue over southern Mexico through Tuesday.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center said the storm was expected to drop 10 to 16 inches of rain on parts of Oaxaca, with isolated maximums of 20 inches, posing a danger for flash floods and mudslides.
Near Puerto Angel, gusts of wind, heavy rain and big waves began lashing the beach town of Zipolite, long known for its clothing-optional beach and bohemian vibe, on Sunday night. Ominous grey skies and blowing sand cleared beaches in the popular destinations of Puerto Escondido, Puerto Angel and Huatulco.
“There is a lot of rain and sudden gusts of strong wind,” said Silvia Ranfagni, the manager of Zipolite’s Casa Kalmar hotel. “The ocean is really stirred up, and it’s raining a lot,” said Ranfagni, who has decided to ride out Agatha at the property. “You can hear the wind howling.”
National emergency officials said they had assembled a task force of more than 9,300 people for the area and more than 200 shelters were opened as forecasters warned of dangerous storm surge and flooding from heavy rains.
Jeff Masters, meteorologist with Yale Climate Connections and the founder of Weather Underground, said the region’s hurricanes typically get their start from tropical waves coming off the coast of Africa.
“Since the African monsoon typically does not start producing tropical waves until early- or mid-May, there simply aren’t enough initial disturbances to get many eastern Pacific hurricanes in May,” Masters wrote in an email. “In addition, May water temperatures are cooler than they are at the peak of the season, and wind shear is typically higher.”
Masters was not sure if Agatha was kicked off by a tropical wave – areas of low pressure that move across the tropics – but the storm has benefitted from warm waters and low wind shear.
Late Monday morning, Agatha accelerated slightly, as it moved toward the area near Puerto Escondido and Puerto Angel in the southern state of Oaxaca. The region includes the laid-back tourist resorts of Huatulco, Mazunte and Zipolite.
In Huatulco, municipal authorities canceled schools and ordered “the absolute closure” of all beaches and its seven bays, many of which are reachable only by boat.
The government’s Mexican Turtle Center – a former slaughterhouse turned conservation center in Mazunte – announced it was closed to visitors until further notice because of the hurricane.