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Agatha weakens to tropical storm after early-season landfall in Mexico

By Renee Duff, AccuWeather & UPI Staff, Accuweather.com
Agatha weakens to tropical storm after early-season landfall in Mexico
The East Pacific's first named storm of the year -- Agatha -- weakened to a tropical storm on Monday evening after it made landfall on the southern Mexico coastline. Photo courtesy NOAA

May 31 (UPI) -- Agatha, the first named storm of the year in the East Pacific Ocean, has weakened into a tropical depression after making landfall along the southern Mexico coast as a hurricane. The storm also made history in the process.

Agatha had maximum sustained winds of 45 mph, the National Hurricane Center said in a 4 a.m. CDT update on Tuesday. It was located about 45 miles north northeast of Alina Cruz, Mexico, and was moving northeast at 8 mph.

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Further weakening is expected and Agatha is forecast to dissipate over Mexico by Tuesday afternoon," the NHC said.

The storm had landed along Mexico's southern coast just west of the town of Puerto Angel as a strong hurricane.

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The government of Mexico on Monday night discontinued a tropical storm warning from Punta Maldonado to Lagunas de Chacahua, a hurricane warning from Lagunas de Chacahua to Salina Cruz and a hurricane watch from Salina Cruz to Barra de Tonala.

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It issued a tropical storm warning from Bahias de Huatulco eastward to Boca de Pijijiapan, Mexico.

Since the storm made landfall at Category 2 strength, it became the strongest May hurricane to ever make landfall in the eastern Pacific basin. Only two hurricanes in recorded history have made landfall in Mexico during the month of May -- Barbara on May 29, 2013, and Agatha on May 24, 1971 -- both of which were Category 1 hurricane strength.

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AccuWeather meteorologists rated Agatha a 3 on the AccuWeather RealImpact™ Scale for Hurricanes in Mexico as a result of the storm's damaging winds and significant flooding threat.

AccuWeather meteorologists had forecast Agatha to make landfall as a Category 2 hurricane (maximum sustained winds of 96-110 mph) late Monday afternoon along the southern coast of Mexico in the state of Oaxaca.

Conditions along the southwestern coast of Mexico had already begun to deteriorate early Monday morning as the outermost rain squalls moved onshore. As Agatha approaches the coastline, conditions in Oaxaca and Chiapas will continue to worsen.

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These strong winds can also kick up dangerous surf along the entire southern coast of Mexico, making it dangerous for swimmers to enter the water and for boaters to venture offshore.

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Large and destructive waves will not be the only coastal hazard. Strong onshore winds will cause water to pile up at the coast, with a storm surge of up to 10 feet expected to cause inundation near and to the east of where the center of Agatha moves onshore.

"Flooding rainfall is expected to be one of the biggest impacts across southern Mexico and parts of Central America," Pydynowski said.

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Heavy rain is likely to pour down from Acapulco to Oaxaca and Tehuacán, Mexico, through Tuesday, posing a significant risk to life and property.

"The heaviest rain will fall across the Mexican states of Oaxaca and Chiapas, causing flash flooding, mudslides and road closures," Pydynowski said.

Residents living in and around mountainous areas will be at the highest risk to experience these life-threatening dangers, as the steep slopes can easily give way once the ground becomes extremely saturated. Mudslides can occur with little warning, making it vital for people to be aware of rapidly changing conditions and have an emergency plan in place.

Rain amounts of 6 inches or more are expected to be widespread across southern Mexico during the life span of the storm. Coastal portions of Oaxaca and Chiapas can expect the highest rain amounts of 8-12 inches. Mountainous areas will be most likely to reach the AccuWeather Local StormMax™ of 28 inches.

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"Additional heavy rainfall is expected after the storm which can lead to additional flooding and hamper cleanup efforts," Pydynowski said.

The 2022 East Pacific tropical season is off to a quick start after beginning on May 15. AccuWeather forecasters are predicting a normal to above-normal season with 15-19 named storms and the possibility of six to eight of them reaching hurricane force. The normal count of named storms in the basin is about 15 storms, with eight achieving hurricane status.

AccuWeather meteorologists will be closely monitoring the leftover energy from Agatha as it crosses Mexico and enters Atlantic basin waters of the southern Gulf of Mexico and the northwestern Caribbean Sea. There is now a 50/50 chance it could redevelop into the Atlantic's first named storm.

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