Agatha is expected to hit Mexico as a Category 2 hurricane and enter the Gulf

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Agatha became the first named storm of the eastern Pacific hurricane season on Saturday, and is expected to quickly intensify into a hurricane before hitting the west coast of Mexico on Monday.

Hurricane watches have been posted for Mexico’s southern coast from Salina Cruz to Punta Maldonado as the storm could blast ashore with a devastating combination of torrential rain, damaging winds and an ocean surge that could inundate coastal communities.

The storm is also worrying Atlantic Basin forecasters because it could move across Mexico and emerge next week in the Gulf of Mexico, where it could regenerate and potentially threaten some spots along the Gulf Coast.

As of 11 a.m. Saturday, Agatha was positioned 215 miles southwest of Puerto Angel, Mexico, drifting west-northwest at 5 mph. Its maximum sustained winds were only 45 mph, but it was getting organized quickly.

Over the next 48 hours it is expected to strengthen rapidly, becoming a Category 2 hurricane with winds of 100 mph by Monday morning; landing is expected shortly thereafter.

The National Hurricane Center wrote that the storm is in “near ideal environmental conditions” for intensification; it passes over very warm ocean waters, which help fuel storms, and will encounter a lack of hostile upper winds that could disrupt thunderstorm development. The Hurricane Center said a rapid intensification – or an increase in wind speed of at least 35 mph in 24 hours – “is a distinct possibility” the next day.

Although much of the tropical Pacific Ocean is colder than normal due to La Niña, Agatha sits above a small pool of warmer than normal water that could help strengthen it. Scientists have found that warming waters due to human-induced climate change increase the tendency for tropical storms and hurricanes to intensify rapidly.

Conditions are expected to deteriorate in the hurricane watch zone beginning Sunday evening, with the worst conditions Monday as the storm makes landfall. The Hurricane Center projects the following impacts:

  • Tropical storm force winds (39+ mph) beginning Sunday evening and hurricane force winds (74+ mph) Monday.
  • A storm surge – or a rise in ocean waters over normally dry land – near and just east of where the center of the storm crosses the coast, accompanied by “wide and destructive waves”.
  • 10 to 16 inches of rain in the Mexican state of Oaxaca, with isolated totals of 20 inches. “Life-threatening flash flooding and mudslides can occur,” the Hurricane Center wrote.

As the storm moves through southern Mexico, heavy rains will span its interior Monday through Tuesday, posing an additional threat of severe flooding, according to the Hurricane Center.

By Wednesday or Thursday, if Agatha’s remains resist passage on land, they could cross the Gulf of Mexico and begin to re-grow.

The Hurricane Center currently indicates that there is a 20% chance of a tropical depression or storm developing in the Bay of Campeche in the southern Gulf over the next five days.

If the storm regenerates in the gulf, it would gain a new name and become the first storm of the 2022 Atlantic hurricane season: Alex.

NOAA predicts seventh straight Atlantic hurricane season

Agatha formed in the eastern Pacific Ocean about two weeks before the first named medium storm, tweeted Jeff Mastersa hurricane specialist who writes for Yale’s Climate Connections.

Despite Agatha’s early training, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted a below-average season in the eastern Pacific, primarily due to La Niña and its associated colder than normal waters.

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