Veteran hurricane chaser Josh Morgerman just published his incredible firsthand account of Hurricane Patricia’s landfall on the west coast of Mexico late last month. Patricia, the strongest tropical cyclone ever recorded, came ashore as a category five with catastrophic winds of 165 MPH.
Morgerman, owner of the popular iCyclone Twitter and Facebook pages, sprints into the center of storms that most people scramble to get away from. He’s embedded himself in some of the worst landfalling cyclones in recent memory, including 2013’s Typhoon Haiyan, 2014’s Hurricane Odile, and Typhoons Dujuan and Goni earlier this year.
His work in Super Typhoon Haiyan is especially noteworthy, as it was the strongest storm ever recorded (at the time) and the strongest ever recorded at landfall. The storm’s 195 MPH winds and devastating surge and flooding killed more than 5,000 people and caused billions of dollars in damage.
Hurricane Patricia surpassed Haiyan to become the strongest tropical cyclone ever recorded (by wind speed) on October 23, 2015, when a Hurricane Hunter aircraft flew into its eyewall and measured winds of 200 MPH. Patricia maintained these historic winds for 18 hours, only weakening just before it came ashore. The hurricane slammed into Mexico’s west coast between Manzanillo and Puerto Vallarta that evening with winds of 165 MPH; even though it hit a rural area between these two populous cities, its category five winds still caused a significant amount of damage.
The only saving grace with this storm is that its damaging wind field was small—its swath of hurricane force winds only extended 30 miles on either side of its eye, and the category five winds took up less than a quarter of that space.
Despite its small size, Josh and his chasing partner Erik Serano managed to place themselves right in the path of Hurricane Patricia’s eye, staying the night in a town called Emiliano Zapata. The town was the perfect spot to ride out such a dangerous storm—it’s slightly elevated and far enough inland that they wouldn’t get inundated by surge.
When you hear people talk about the winds picking back up after the eye of a storm passes through, they’re not kidding. Josh shows us the destructive winds quickly increase as the front of the eyewall comes through Emiliano Zapato, then the characteristic lull (and even some clearing!) as they eye passes overhead. As soon as the eye passed, the winds whipped around the other direction and caused immense damage.
Shots of the damage are eerily reminiscent of what you see the day after a strong tornado passes through a town. It’s simply incredible that a hurricane of this magnitude resulted in such a low death toll (fewer than ten people); if a category five hurricane had to make landfall somewhere in North America, this was probably the best spot for that to happen.
Morgerman will appear as a guest on this Sunday’s (November 8) episode of WXGeeks on The Weather Channel to discuss his encounter with Patricia and the other cyclones he’s chased. The show, hosted by Dr. Marshall Shepherd, airs at noon Eastern.