It was billed as the megastorm of the millennium; the most powerful storm ever recorded according to the barometric pressure measured at the eye and the measured sustained windspeeds around that eye of 200mph upwards. It intensified very quickly and as it headed towards the Mexican Pacific coastline it prompted the National Hurricane Centre to issue warnings of an “extremely dangerous Category 5 hurricane” about to make landfall with a potentially catastrophic storm surge “near and to the east of where the centre makes landfall”. Tweet here:
It did indeed make landfall, supposedly as a Category 5 and @metofficestorms tweeted:
This was based on NOAA’s report, which seems to have been subtly altered since I first went to the link and I wish I had archived the original. However, it confirms the figure of 165mph sustained windspeed with an unconfirmed report of 185mph and 211mph gust.
So there is little doubt that, officially, Patricia made landfall as a Category 5 with very high windspeeds, even though these very destructive winds were confined to the eye perimeter, which measured a compact 15 miles across. Even so, one would expect such extreme winds to cause extreme damage, even if such damage was confined to a relatively small area. Not only did Patricia fail to inflict widespread damage in Mexico (including the predicted ‘potentially catastrophic’ flooding and landslides) but it seems there is no evidence whatsoever of the severe impacts one would expect from such a storm in the (sparsely populated) exact area where the storm made landfall. A few downed trees and power lines, wrecked (not flattened) houses, destroyed crops etc. is hardly evidence of 165mph/185mph sustained winds. See photos here.
Where did it all go wrong? Why did a supposedly global-warming induced, monster El Nino augmented Category 5 superstorm – the most intense ever – make landfall and effectively vanish before our very eyes into firstly a Cat 2, then 1, then tropical storm, then finally tropical depression, within the space of a few short hours? The explanations for this and the fact that it caused so little damage have been patchy and not entirely convincing, consisting basically of the following list:
1. The mountains ate our monster storm
2. The eye was so small it didn’t have much of an impact
3. There was no storm surge because it didn’t have time to form
4. There was no storm surge because of the shape of the seabed
5. The storm was moving too fast to cause much damage
6. It hit a sparsely populated area, therefore damage was minimal
7. Warnings were heeded, therefore no fatalities
8. The eye ‘grazed’ along the coast instead of heading directly inland
Those interested can read the lowdown on the ‘science’ and social reasoning behind Patricia’s vanishing act on these links:
The failure of Patricia to leave her mark on the people and landscape of Mexico is made all the more perplexing when we examine the top 5 most powerful hurricanes ever recorded and their impacts. The four storms ranked below Patricia in terms of intensity all caused significant loss of life and widespread destruction.
Furthermore, by way of direct comparison, the only previous east Pacific hurricane to make landfall at Category 5 was responsible for between 1,000 and 2,000 deaths in Mexico – in October 1959.
Patricia is apparently unique. So is this the future? In the age of global warming, are we to expect more frequent such ephemeral monster storms which intensify rapidly, then effectively vaporise as they make landfall?
A more rational explanation might be that Patricia was not in fact a Category 5 when it made landfall. Ryan Maue of Weatherbell doubts that it was:
Which suggests the possibility that Patricia intensified very rapidly as it fed off very warm surface waters in the extreme east Pacific (contributed to via the Warm Blob and El Nino, no doubt), but then just as rapidly weakened immediately prior to the eye making landfall. The total time then spent as a category 5 may have been very brief indeed. I’m just guessing, but the lack of extreme wind damage and more particularly the lack of a storm surge, require explanations rather more detailed and convincing than those given above.
The final word on this matter arises via one of the deepest and most basic instincts of our species: the irrational compulsion to attribute seemingly ‘miraculous’ events to divine providence:
Perhaps, in the final analysis, such ‘explanations’ for why the world’s most powerful storm failed completely to show its teeth, are no better or no worse than the supposedly more ‘rational’ explanations currently on offer in the media. One thing is for sure: the ‘climate change is happening now’ pundits who eagerly leapt upon Patricia as proof of claim and who (arguably) eagerly anticipated widespread destruction in its wake, have now gone quiet, no doubt waiting for the next opportunity to try and advance their agenda. We all live – and some of us learn.