Hurricane Agatha made landfall at 4 p.m. Monday just west of Puerto Angel, Mexico, with maximum sustained winds of 105 mph, according to the US National Hurricane Center.
It is the first Category 2 storm to make landfall along the Pacific coast of Mexico.
The National Hurricane Center has warned of “extremely dangerous” coastal flooding from storm surges and “life-threatening” hurricane-force winds in Oaxaca state. Heavy rains are expected to continue over southern Mexico through Tuesday.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center said the storm is expected to drop 10 to 16 inches of rain over parts of Oaxaca, with isolated highs of 20 inches, posing a danger of flash flooding and mudslides.
Near Puerto Angel, gusty winds, heavy rain and big waves began battering the seaside town of Zipolite, long known for its clothing-optional beach and bohemian vibe, on Sunday evening. Eerie gray skies and blowing sands cleared the beaches of popular destinations Puerto Escondido, Puerto Angel and Huatulco.
“There is a lot of rain and sudden gusts of wind,” said Silvia Ranfagni, manager of the Casa Kalmar hotel in Zipolite. “The ocean is really choppy and it’s raining a lot,” said Ranfagni, who decided to take Agatha out on the property. “You can hear the wind howling.”
National emergency officials said they had assembled a task force of more than 9,300 people for the region and more than 200 shelters had been opened as forecasters warned of dangerous storm surge and flooding from severe heavy rains.
Jeff Masters, meteorologist at Yale Climate Connections and founder of Weather Underground, said hurricanes in the region typically originate from tropical waves coming off African shores.
“Since the African monsoon does not typically begin producing tropical waves until early or mid-May, there simply isn’t enough initial disturbance to cause many Eastern Pacific hurricanes in May.” , Masters wrote in an email. “Additionally, water temperatures in May are cooler than they are at the height of the season, and wind shear is generally higher.”
Masters wasn’t sure Agatha was kicked off by a tropical wave — areas of low pressure that cross the tropics — but the storm benefited from warm waters and weak wind shear.
Late Monday morning, Agatha picked up the speed slightly as she headed toward the area near Puerto Escondido and Puerto Angel in the southern state of Oaxaca. The region includes the laid-back tourist resorts of Huatulco, Mazunte and Zipolite.
In Huatulco, city officials have canceled schools and ordered the “absolute closure” of all beaches and its seven bays, many of which are only accessible by boat.
The government’s Mexican Turtle Center – a former slaughterhouse turned conservation center in Mazunte – announced it was closed to visitors until further notice due to the hurricane.