MEXICO CITY - Hurricane Willa strengthened to a rare category 5 storm on Monday as it barreled toward tourist spots on Mexico's Pacific coast, with landfall expected on Tuesday afternoon or evening, the US National Hurricane Center said.
On Monday morning, Willa had maximum sustained winds of near 160 miles per hour (260 kph), with higher gusts, the Miami-based hurricane center said. It was about 135 miles southwest of the Pacific town of Cabo Corrientes.
"Willa is expected to be an extremely dangerous major hurricane when it reaches the coast of Mexico," the NHC said.
Category 5 is the top level of the Saffir-Simpson hurricane and wind scale.
Willa is expected to produce an extremely dangerous storm surge, pushing ocean water into portions of the coast by Tuesday.
The hurricane center said Willa was expected to strike near Mazatlan, a popular beach resort, and several other local tourist destinations also are in the storm's path.
The storm could strengthen throughout Monday but is expected to weaken slightly on Tuesday.
Willa is expected to douse coastal states Jalisco, Nayarit and Sinaloa with 6 to 12 inches (15 to 30 cm) of rain, likely triggering flash floods and landslides, the NHC said. Some areas may see as much as 18 inches (45 cm) of rainfall.
Nearly three years ago to the day, Hurricane Patricia, one of the most powerful storms on record, struck Mexico's Pacific coast with winds that tore down trees, moved cars and forced thousands of people to flee homes.
Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Vicente, with maximum sustained winds of 45 miles per hour (72 kph), was churning some 365 miles (590 km) southeast of Manzanillo. The storm is expected to approach the southwestern coast of Mexico on Tuesday.
While Vicente is expected to weaken to a tropical depression by Monday night or Tuesday, it could produce major rainfall and the risk of flash floods and landslides, the NHC said.