(Carrier Management updates AP analysis with RMS and AIR Worldwide statements)

Remarkably little damage was reported in the wake of Hurricane Patricia, which hit Mexico after peaking Friday as the strongest hurricane on record in the Western Hemisphere. (See related article, Texas Hurricane Patricia Losses Could Be Billions; Mexico Spared, for update on Texas.)

Hurricane experts say these are among the reasons why:

  • The storm hit a sparsely populated area, avoiding direct hits on the resort of Puerto Vallarta and port city of Manzanillo. “You and I would be having a very different conversation if this went over the top of Puerto Vallarta,” said Dennis Feltgen, spokesman for the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
  • Mountainous terrain quickly weakened the system. “It ran into the mountains and that completely disrupted the circulation,” Feltgen said.
  • The hurricane had a very narrow wind corridor. Category 5 winds extended out only about 15 miles (25 kilometers) on either side of the eye and hurricane force winds only 35 miles (55 kilometers). “Patricia’s Category 5 winds were confined to a relatively narrow swath … and this swath missed major cities,” said Jeff Masters, Director of Meteorology at Weather Underground.
  • It advanced rapidly. “The storm was moving fast enough at landfall—about 20 mph (35 kph)—that these heavy rains did not stay in place long enough to generate the kinds of devastating floods we’ve seen in the past from Mexican hurricanes, ” said Masters.
  • Dangerous storm surge did not build up along the coast, in part because “the storm blew up from tropical status to Cat 5 so quickly,” said Richard S. Olson, director at the International Hurricane Research Center in Miami.
  • Mexico’s good preparation. “The ‘warning-alert-evacuate-then hunker down’ combination seems to have worked to limit the human losses from the wind component of the hazard,” Olson said. “Local, state, and national authorities seemed to have gotten this one right.”

Source: Associated Press

Carrier Management Update:

Separately, catastrophe modeling firms RMS and AIR Worldwide offered similar assessments on Sunday:

In a storm update on its website, RMS highlighted the small wind field and fast movement:

“Major destruction as would normally be expected for a Category 5 hurricane has been avoided as the storm hit a relatively sparsely-populated stretch of coastline and avoided direct hits on major cities or tourist resorts. With Patricia’s Category 5 hurricane force winds confined to a relatively narrow swath estimated between 15-35 mi (25-55 km) in diameter, Patricia along its path missed the popular coastal resort city of Puerto Vallarta (2010 pop. 380k) on its weaker left side, and the major port city of Manzanillo (2007 pop. 110k) and one of Mexico’s largest cities, Guadalajara (2010 pop. 1.5 million) on its right.

“Major destruction was also avoided as a result of the storm’s relatively fast forward motion at landfall, about 20 mph (32 km/hr) meaning that torrential rains did not stay in place long enough to generate destructive flooding. The coastline affected by storm surge also fortunately did not have a large area of shallow water offshore favorable for building up a destructive storm surge.

While Patricia was a Category 5 storm on the Saffir-Simpson wind intensity scale at landfall, AIR Worldwide estimates that insured losses to onshore properties in Mexico will not exceed $200 million

AIR reported: “Six hours before Hurricane Patricia made landfall in the Mexican state of Jalisco, it was the most intense tropical cyclone ever recorded by the National Hurricane Center (NHC) in their domain (the Atlantic and East Pacific ocean basins). Fortunately, hurricanes cannot sustain such extreme intensity for long and by the time Patricia reached the coast—about 55 miles west-northwest of Manzanillo—maximum sustained winds had fallen from 200 mph to 165 mph.

AIR also summarized several records broken by Hurricane Patricia

  • In addition to its record-breaking wind speeds, Hurricane Patricia’s minimum central pressure, at 879 millibars, was the lowest recorded in the Atlantic and East Pacific basins.
  • It also holds the record for the fastest intensifying hurricane, dropping 100 millibars in just 24 hours.

Damage Reports

AIR reported that in the state of Jalisco, in the area nearest to landfall, roof coverings were peeled off by high winds and damage to nonstructural elements such as awnings and signage was common. Dozens of small homes were flattened in the fishing village of Chamela.

According to AIR, some structural damage to homes and businesses occurred as a result of fallen trees; severe damage, however, has been limited.

RMS cited an estimate from Mexican government officials that Patricia had damaged between 3,000 and 3,500 houses.

Still, in the village of Meleque on Jalisco’s coast, which bore the full brunt of the storm, damage wasn’t as severe as expected. Residents are already working to replace roof tiles and remove trees from streets, as well as concrete signposts and electricity pylons that were pulled down by strong winds.

In the nearby small fishing village of La Manzanilla, eyewitness reports indicate that a storm surge of about 3-4 meters in height above sea level reached the steps of the church in the city square. All of the fishing boats had been moved and no major damage was reported. Most of the damage in village was due to the high winds with roof and tree damage, and vegetation stripped off. The beach front restaurants took the brunt of the damage from both high waves and winds, many of which are palapa built (open-sided dwellings with thatched roofs).

The city of Manzanillo, home to the largest container port on Mexico’s Pacific seaboard was spared Patricia’s destructive winds and seemingly no destructive storm surge, according to reports.

Guadalajara was also spared hurricane force winds, though strong winds and heavy rain brought down trees and caused flash flooding across the city.

In the neighboring state of Colima, some 350 trees were uprooted and a number of landslides blocked the Colima-Manzanillo highway. Ahead of landfall on Friday, authorities relocated thousands of coastal residents, evacuated tourists from beach hotels and closed sea ports, airports, and schools in Jalisco and in the neighboring states of Colima and Nayarit.

Historical Context

RMS said that the 1959 Mexico hurricane is the only Category 5 hurricane known to have made landfall on Mexico’s Pacific Coast, which came onshore near to Manzanillo, in Colima State in October 1959. Unlike Patricia, the hurricane exhibited a larger diameter of hurricane force winds meaning that the impact from the hurricane was severe and widespread. Wind gusts greater than 155 mph (250 km/hr) were recorded in Manzanillo, destroying 40 percent of homes there. Extremely heavy rainfall along its path across the mountainous interior triggered multiple mudslides, killing hundreds. Known as the deadliest Pacific tropical cyclone on record, that hurricane caused least $2.2billion in damage (trended to 2015) and 1,800 deaths across Colima and Jalisco.

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