On the night of Monday, October 23rd, the forecast for Tropical Storm Otis had it hitting the Pacific coast of Mexico by Wednesday morning as a tropical storm with 50 mph winds. Wednesday morning, the storm had strengthened to a category 5 hurricane with estimated 165 mph winds.
The hurricane outlooks dating back to last Sunday show the progression of the storm’s strength. The National Hurricane Center did not pick up on the extreme intensification, leading to delayed hurricane warnings for the southern region of Mexico. The first hurricane warning was issued only 18 hours before the storm made landfall, which was not enough time for most people to evacuate. Other models, like the GFS and EURO, did not pick up on the intensification either.
Usually, rapid intensification occurs when a storm intensifies by 35 mph in 24 hours. Otis strengthened by 35 mph in less than 3 hours. One reason for the extreme intensification was due to water temperatures being in the upper 80s right near the coast.
Just in the past month, there has been a study linking climate change to the rapid intensification of hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean. While the study did not cover the Pacific Ocean, we are seeing it happen more in the Pacific as well.
While we’re awaiting the official report and summary from Hurricane Otis, scientists will be studying this storm for many years to understand why the forecast was so wrong.