2015-10-25 18:04:15.000 – Ryan Knapp, Weather Observer/Staff Meteorologist
When our shift came up on Wednesday (October 21st), then Tropical Storm Patricia was just starting to take shape in the waters west of Guatemala. By the time I went to bed the morning of the 22nd, TS Patricia was upgraded to a Category 2 Hurricane (sustained winds of 96-110mph or 154-177km/h). By the time I woke up in the afternoon, Hurricane Patricia intensified to a Category 4 (sustained winds of 130-156mph or 209-251km/h). During my night shift spanning October 22nd/23rd, I watched Hurricane Patricia intensify
even further to a Category 5 (winds sustained greater than or equal to 157mph or 252km/h). To watch that kind of rapid intensification was fascinating in and of itself, but then numbers from the system started to flow into my social media feeds.
By the time I was heading off to bed the morning of the 23rd, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) posted that in a 24 hour span, the low pressure system decreased 100 mb from 980 mb to 880 mb. Then the data from the Hurricane Hunters started to be posted with the most impressive reading being the 200mph (320km/h) sustained winds they measured. Later in the day, the system bottomed out with a central pressure of 880mb (25.99 inches of mercury), the lowest pressure of any hurricane on record in the Western Hemisphere. This storm was a monster and one that had a high potential of damage as it made landfall.
As it came onshore, the storm weakened a bit with sustained winds coming down to 165 mph. However, there were two other “good news” bits– the highest winds were concentrated close to its core and that core threaded the needle coming onshore in an area with low populations and missing the population centers of Puerto Vallarta and Manzanillo, Mexico. Even better, as Patricia came onshore and hit the mountains of central Mexico, it weakened rapidly lowering its wind threat as it barreled towards Guadalajara. That’s not to lower its impact though as it still caused wind damage, coastal and localized flooding, and mudslides. However, it had a high potential of being far worse.
That isn’t the end of Patricia’s story though, at least not quite yet. While she may no longer be a hurricane, she is still causing issues as she moves northeast from Mexico, to Texas, and eventually New England. As the low moved from Mexico into the Gulf of Mexico and the Gulf states, heavy rains spread in. As this low tracks northeast, a “river” of atmospheric moisture will continue to feed into it causing widespread rain on the East Coast. Indeed, this will eventually be the case even for New England as this low moves in midweek and lingers through the end of the workweek. As it approaches our area, it will rapidly intensify again as a secondary low approaches from the Great Lakes. This will cause heavy, widespread rain with gusty winds looking likely for not only the summits but also for the lowlands. No, they will not be 200+ mph but they will still be blustery. So, that will be something to keep an eye on for the end of this week.
Now, the question on everyone’s mind – was our 231 mph wind gust surpassed? From a theoretical standpoint, absolutely. With the Hurricane Hunters reporting sustained winds of 200 mph “with higher gusts” one has to think that at least one gust went over our number. And I have seen satellite estimates as high as 235 mph and unconfirmed gusts along the Mexican coast of 211 mph. So, with all of this in mind, yes, something likely gusted higher than our highest gust recorded. However, that is the stickler so far. As of now, I have not seen anything recorded higher than our gust. But, that is not to say something wasn’t recorded higher and that it won’t be uncovered and confirmed at a later time. Cyclone Olivia’s world record wind of 253 mph (408 km/h) was measured on Barrow Island on 10 April 1996 but it wasn’t confirmed until 26 January 2010, nearly 14 years later. So, as of now Barrow Island and Mount Washington’s gusts still stand at the top of the list; however, only time will tell whether or not they remain there. If we learn of anything further, we will be sure to share it with you.
Ryan Knapp, Weather Observer/Staff Meteorologist