Hurricane Jimena approaches Baja California

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Hurricane Jimena, a powerful Category 3 hurricane, is currently closing in on Mexico's Baja California peninsula. Some areas of the region are already beginning to experience the storm's effects.

Forecast track map of Jimena.
Image: NHC.

The storm has weakened over the past 24 hours from Category 4 status, but is still what forecasters describe as "extremely dangerous". It currently has winds of 125 miles per hour, with higher gusts, and is moving north-northwest at 10 knots. Jimena is situated about 110 mi (175 km) southwest of Cabo San Lucas.

Officials in Mexico are working to prepare for Jimena's onslaught. Audel Alvarez, the head of training for civil protection in the state of Baja California Sur, said, "The whole state is vulnerable." He reported that 35 emergency shelters have been prepared to accommodate up to 30,000 evacuees.

Forecasters say the storm will likely move near or over southern portions of the peninsula by late Tuesday or early Wednesday. Accordingly, tropical cyclone warnings and watches have been issued for these areas, as well as parts of mainland Mexico. The state of Baja California Sur and Socorro Island have been placed on orange alert, the second-highest.

The National Hurricane Center recently issued a statement advising residents of the potential danger: "Interests in the hurricane warning area are advised that strong winds will precede the arrival of the center by several preparations need to be completed very soon. Remember not to focus on the exact track since dangerous impacts extend some distance from the center."

This may be the strongest hurricane ever to hit the region

—Jose Gajon, director of civil protection for Baja California Sur

Thousands of tourists have already evacuated from resort areas in the path of Jimena, though many have refused to leave in fear of falling victim to looting. Local officials drove through slums trying to persuade people to living in poorly made homes to get out of harm's way. A firefighter rode through the streets of Colonia Obrera, a small settlement, sending the following alert through a loudspeaker: "For the safety of you and your family, board a vehicle or head to the nearest shelter". However, he reported that efforts were largely unsuccessful.

Bill Reed, a forecaster with the NHC, said "Any poorly constructed buildings with those wind speeds can be totally destroyed. The biggest threat, as always, is anyone that remains in the lowest portions of the land, near the coastline are at risk from drowning obviously from very high waves and potential storm surge a storm like this represents."

Gusty winds and heavy precipitation are already being felt in some coastal areas. A spokesman for the Hilton Los Cabos Beach & Golf Resort said "Right now what we are seeing is some heavy rain and winds, but for the most part we haven’t seen any damage." Rough seas continue to batter the coast as the storm approaches.

Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Erika – the fifth named cyclone of the 2009 Atlantic season – has formed in the Atlantic Ocean, and might threaten the United States next week.