A weather station near Acapulco measured a 205 mph wind gust – one of the highest observed in the world – as Category 5 Hurricane Otis made landfall last Wednesday. The strongest hurricane on record to strike the west coast of Mexico, the storm killed more than 40 people and produced catastrophic damage in and around Acapulco, with economic losses expected to top $10 billion.
The wind gust reported by the National Tidal Service is preliminary, but if confirmed it would rank in the top 10 wind gusts observed globally. Weather agencies such as the National Hurricane Center and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) typically confirm extreme observations through poststorm analysis.
The strongest wind on record is a 253 mph gust on Barrow Island in Australia during Tropical Cyclone Olivia on April 10, 1996, according data from the WMO. Before then, Mount Washington held the wind record with a 231 mph gust on April 12, 1934. And more recently, a 213 mph gust was measured on Orchid Island in Taiwan in October during Typhoon Koinu.
Extreme winds often go unrecorded because such gusts can either damage or destroy instrumentation. In this case, however, the weather station operated by the National Tidal Service “was the only element to remain completely standing” near the observing site “since the entire perimeter fence disappeared,” the agency said on X, formerly known as Twitter.
Otis stunned forecasters when it intensified with record-challenging haste, its winds jumping 90 mph in just 12 hours, and 115 mph in 24 hours, before slamming into Acapulco with maximum sustained winds of 165 mph. Most computer models predicted Otis to become only a Category 1 hurricane, leading to what meteorologists had described as a “nightmare scenario” when it unexpectedly turned into a Category 5 before making landfall in a major population center.
The death toll from the storm reached at least 46 on Wednesday as dozens of people remained missing. Acapulco and nearby areas were still recovering from massive power and communication outages, no public transportation, limited phone service, and food and water shortages. Around 274,000 homes were damaged or destroyed, around 120 hospitals and clinics were damaged, and around 600 hotels and condominiums were affected.
Economic losses are expected to be in the billions. “The direct physical damage and net-loss business interruption costs from Hurricane Otis will result in a minimum $10 billion in economic losses,” Steve Bowen, chief science officer for the global reinsurance broker Gallagher Re, wrote in an email. “It will be one of the costliest natural catastrophe events on record for Mexico.”
“A particular concern is that a majority of homeowners in Acapulco do not have insurance, and even a portion of commercial real estate is not insured either. This will mean a sizable segment of the damage either being uninsured or underinsured,” Bowen continued.
Verisk, a data analytics and technology firm, estimates insured losses of $3 billion to $6 billion, most of it due to the extreme winds. “The coastline of Acapulco contains many larger apartments and condominium buildings as well as hotels. Many of those had a majority of the windows blown out,” Verisk said in a news release.
“Roof covering damage was also noted on many buildings near the coast. Smaller commercial and residential buildings in Acapulco saw major damage as well, with cladding tossed from walls, roofs torn off and debris scattered.” Verisk noted it predicts that Otis will “become one of the most expensive events (if not highest) on record for the Mexican insurance market.”
- – -
Samantha Schmidt contributed to this report.