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Agatha, now a hurricane, heads to the Mexican coast

This satellite image made available by NOAA shows Hurricane Agatha, center, off the Pacific coast of Mexico on Sunday, May 29, 2022, at 11:20 a.m. EDT.Associated Press

Hurricane Agatha, the first named storm this year in the eastern Pacific, is rapidly intensifying, packing winds of up to 110 mph and heavy rains that threaten to unleash potentially fatal floods and mudslides, the National Hurricane Center said Sunday night.

Agatha, which was upgraded from a tropical storm Sunday, had sustained winds that exceeded the threshold for a Category 2 hurricane. Forecasters said it was expected to become a “major hurricane” — with maximum sustained winds of 111 mph or greater — before it reaches the coast of southern Mexico on Monday afternoon or evening.

The Mexican state of Oaxaca could get as much as 16 inches of rain, with isolated amounts of 20 inches, the center said.

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The center issued a hurricane warning — meaning that life and property should be rapidly protected — for roughly 160 miles of the Oaxacan coast, from the city of Santa Cruz to the Lagunas de Chacahua National Park.

“Storm surge is expected to produce extremely dangerous coastal flooding in areas of onshore winds near and to the east of where the center of Agatha makes landfall,” the center said. “Near the coast, the surge will be accompanied by large and destructive waves.”

Storms originating in the eastern Pacific generally do not reach the United States as hurricanes, Dennis Feltgen, a meteorologist and spokesman for the Hurricane Center, said Saturday. The same applies to Agatha, he said, though he added that if the storm “survives its trek across Mexico, then its remnants could emerge into the Gulf of Mexico.”

Agatha formed off the Mexican coast and was named Saturday, not long after the official start of the eastern Pacific hurricane season, which runs from May 15 to Nov. 30.

The Atlantic hurricane season — the term used for storms that form in the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean — runs from June 1 to Nov. 30. Those regions account for the severest hurricanes that have struck the United States, Feltgen said.

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This year is on track to be the first time since 2014 that a hurricane has not formed in the Atlantic before the official start of the season. However, the season generally does not peak until mid-August to late October, and forecasters predict above-average Atlantic activity this year, with six to 10 hurricanes and three to six major hurricanes, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said last week.

If the prediction comes true, this year will be the seventh-consecutive above-average hurricane season.

The causes for the predicted intensity of hurricanes cited by NOAA include the climate pattern known as La Nina, which affects the speed and direction of wind, and a particularly intense West African monsoon season, which produces waves that can lead to powerful and long-lasting hurricanes.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.