Hurricane Willa made landfall Tuesday nighton the west-central coast of Mexico as a strong Category 3 storm with winds of 120 mph, bringing life-threatening rain.
The storm, which had briefly reached Category 5 status Monday, arrived around 9 p.m. EDT near Isla del Bosque, Sinola, about 50 miles southeast of the popular beach resort city of Mazatlan. It headed northeast toward Durango and is expected to rapidly weaken as it moves inland, likely becoming a tropical storm or tropical depression on Wednesday.
The hurricane produced an “extremely dangerous” storm surge along portions of the coast of southwestern Mexico in southern Sinaloa and Nayarit, the National Hurricane Center said. Near the coast, “large and destructive” waves accompanied the surge.
Willa is expected to produce total rainfall accumulations of 6 to 12 inches. Local amounts to 18 inches are possible across portions of western Jalisco, western Nayarit, southern Sinaloa and far southern Durango in Mexico.
“This rainfall will cause life-threatening flash flooding and landslides,” the hurricane center said.
As it slides inland, Willa is expected to produce rainfall amounts of 1 to 3 inches across the rest of Durango and portions of Zacateca, southeast Chihuahua and Coahuila; local amounts to 5 inches are possible.
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto said he ordered the National Emergency Committee to take the “necessary preventive measures to safeguard the population” in the path of the storm.
Authorities rushed to evacuate low-lying areas and set up shelters amid a stretch of high-rise resorts, surfing beaches and fishing villages.
Southwest Airlines issued a travel advisory for travelers headed to and from two major destinations for U.S. tourists – Cabo San Lucas, on the southern tip of Baja California, and Puerto Vallarta in Jalisco. Southwest and American were allowing passengers booked through Friday to change flights without penalty if they want to wait for the storm to pass.
Since the track of the storm is across northern Mexico, Willa is unlikely to have a major impact on the migrant caravan marching through the far southern part of the nation, roughly 1,000 miles away from where the storm hits.
AccuWeather meteorologist Steve Travis said the 7,000-strong migrant caravan making its way north through Mexico to the U.S. border was likely too far east to feel direct effects of Willa. If the migrants take the shortest route, toward Texas, they could see some rain, he said.
“If they take a western track and head for the California border, they will have to deal with what the storm left behind,” Travis told USA TODAY. “They will move through wind damage, and washed-out roads are certainly a likelihood.”
Farther to the south, a weakening Tropical Storm Vicente dissipated over the state of Michoacan Tuesday, after killing at least 12 people in flooding and mudslides. Remnants of the storm could still dump up to 10 inches of rain over portions of southwestern Mexico, potentially triggering dangerous flash floods.