Otis rapidly intensified into a Category 5 hurricane as it approached the southern Pacific Coast of Mexico and the resort city of Acapulco on Tuesday night, forecasters said, warning that catastrophic damage was likely where the storm’s eye moves onshore.
Hurricane Otis’s maximum sustained winds grew to 160 miles per hour with stronger gusts at about 10 p.m. local time, when it was located 55 miles off the coast of Acapulco, the National Hurricane Center said.
The storm was forecast to remain a Category 5 hurricane through landfall overnight into early Wednesday in southern Mexico, threatening what forecasters said would be the strongest storm ever to hit this part of Mexico.
The storm threatens a coast dotted with fishing villages and beach resorts as they gear up for their peak winter season. Along its path lies Acapulco, a large port city and a popular tourist destination home to more than 850,000 people, according to the Mexican government.
“This is an extremely serious situation for the Acapulco metropolitan area with the core of the destructive hurricane likely to come near or over that large city early on Wednesday,” the National Hurricane Center said on Tuesday night.
A hurricane warning was in effect for the Pacific Coast of the state of Guerrero, from the beach town of Punta Maldonado to the resort city of Zihuatanejo, forecasters said. A hurricane watch was in effect for part of the western coast of the state of Oaxaca, from Punta Maldonado to Lagunas de Chacahua.
Winds will be “extremely destructive” in the areas under the hurricane warning, forecasters warned. A storm surge was expected to produce “life-threatening coastal flooding” near and to the east of the storm’s center when it makes landfall, they added.
The rainfall could cause flash and urban flooding, as well as mudslides in the mountainous areas, forecasters said. Otis was expected to bring eight to 16 inches of rain across Guerrero and the western coastal sections of Oaxaca through Thursday, with maximum amounts of 20 inches.
Otis formed in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Mexico on Sunday. Initially a tropical depression, it became a hurricane on Tuesday night, strengthening quickly over the last 24 hours, the hurricane center said.
It is uncommon for storms to maintain Category 5 strength when they make landfall because they usually lose energy over shallower waters.
Tropical storms with wind speeds greater than 157 m.p.h. are classified as Category 5 hurricanes, the rarest and strongest class on the Saffir-Simpson scale.
“There are no hurricanes on record even close to this intensity for this part of Mexico,” the center added.
Mexico’s Pacific Coast was hit by a Category 5 storm in October 2015, when Hurricane Patricia unleashed ferocious winds and rains that astonished meteorologists, forcing hotels to evacuate, airlines to cancel flights and cruise lines to ground ships. There were no immediate reports of casualties at the time.