On Tuesday morning, Oct. 21, the existence of a weather disturbance in our general vicinity came to my attention. Being a weather geek, and being nosy, I opened the National Hurricane Center website, which bookmark on my Mac is well thumbed.
I took a look at the forecast graphics.
Hmm. Worth keeping an eye on, I thought.
By 10 pm on Tuesday, the depression had become a tropical storm named Patricia.
By the time I woke on Wednesday morning, hurricane and tropical storm watches had been posted for a portion of the coastline adjacent to the storm's projected path. At 1 pm, the NHC website said "...NOAA PLANE ENROUTE TO INVESTIGATE PATRICIA..." The results of the investigation were published at 4 pm:
I've lived the better part of the past eight years in this part of the world. I'd seen tropical storm watches and warnings, maybe even a hurricane watch (a watch being a caution, a warning a warning) up to Cabo Corrientes, which is the protective mountainous point on the southern edge of Puerto Vallarta's big bay. But I hadn't seen a hurricane warning that far north. We started packing art and house decor into boxes and moving them inside.
The final public advisory posted at 10:00 Wednesday night said:
...PATRICIA EXPECTED TO BECOME A HURRICANE BY
At 7:00 Thursday morning, I awoke to this news:
...PATRICIA INTENSIFYING QUICKLY... ...PREPARATIONS IN THE HURRICANE WARNING AREA
SHOULD BE COMPLETED TODAY...
With Waldo's help for an hour, we completed some prudent preparations. Just in case.
But it was at 4 pm that the punch came. In the "Changes With This Advisory" section, the hurricane warning area had been expanded northward to encompass Vallarta and the coastline north all the way to San Blas.
Sometime on Thursday afternoon, I saw this photo by astronaut Scott Kelly from the International Space Station.
Except for photos and screen shots added later, the following diary was written as the next two days unfolded.
11:16 pm, Thursday, Oct. 22:
It's perfectly still here except for the softest movement at the tips of the finest palm fronds. I know she's out there. I've seen her picture in full color on the several weather sites I've monitored obsessively for the past two days. She has grown from a so-so tropical storm into the most powerful of hurricanes in 30 hours. Currently a Category 5, Patricia is spinning toward us.
I study the potential paths obsessively, but they all say the same thing. Puerto Vallarta and San Pancho are buried beneath a clot of pink lines, directly beneath the white line which is the consensus of experts and computers as to Patricia's most likely track.
The internet is generous with information and I absorb all I can find, looking for some ray of hope. The satellite photos of the hurricane don't offer much at all. Patricia is moving north.
I'll try to get some sleep tonight. I'll bet tomorrow will be a doozy.
11:36 am, Friday, Oct. 23: Still calm. Light drizzle off and on, cool air for a change, skies white-gray. We worked all morning making preparations to camp out in the basement studio for the night: big cushions, blankets, water, flashlights and candles, table and chairs. The ice chest stands ready to fill beside the kitchen refrigerator. House doors and windows are closed and bolted. The terrace is stripped of photos and mirrors and decorations, anything that can blow in the wind, and we've covered the big stained glass window with pillows and plywood. It's the one I'd least like to lose.
The wind projections are not improving.
See that little open jaw under the orange bands above? That is the bay of Puerto Vallarta. We are located immediately above the upper lip.
According to the National Hurricane Center, there is a 100% chance that we will experience tropical storm force winds: 39 to 74 miles per hour.
12:01 pm, Friday: I'm sitting on the terrace waiting for the 1:00 update on the National Hurricane Center website, waiting (and hoping) for Patricia to make her predicted turn to the east. I just looked at the NOAA satellite imagery and it seems to me she's turning a bit already. If the storm makes landfall between Manzanillo and our neighbor Puerto Vallarta, it will enter the country in a much less-populated area. It will also hit the mountains almost immediately which most experts say will knock her down a few pegs right away. Not that there won't be damage wherever it lands. This storm is a monster, now the biggest ever recorded in the National Hurricane Center reporting zones.
Craig went down to the village this morning to pick up a few last minute supplies. He talked with a Mexican friend there who told him a policemen was going door to door in the low lying streets near the beach (including the street where our gallery sits) telling people to move their cars to high ground and get out. That's because of the possible huge storm surge that will accompany the hurricane's landfall, and is a good precaution although I believe the storm will hit landfall south of Vallarta.
12:08 pm, Friday: Thanks to a heads-up from Carol Lee who had been reading the San Pancho facebook page, I learned that they will be cutting the power into town, probably at 2 pm. That means no internet, no U.S. phone, no fans. Damn. But I'm sure it's wise to separate water and potentially downed electrical lines.
A few more spits of rain and a mild breeze.
12:46 pm, Friday: Just read a newly posted article by Dr. Jeff Masters, the great Wunderground storm expert. My earlier observation that Patricia had started turning toward the east is confirmed. She is beginning to accelerate toward the coast of the Mexican state of Colima.
Unfortunately, the storm may be making landfall just north of Manzanillo, a big and busy harbor city where my high school friend Candy and her husband Dan live. We just saw them last Sunday when they came for a visit while in Vallarta for a few days. The storm surge I mentioned will be on the left (east) side of the hurricane's landfall, which, according to Dr. Masters, is Manzanillo.
2:12 pm, Friday: Suddenly I don't like the look of the satellite photo. Patricia seems to be dithering and may be moving north again. I examine the animated visuals of her current path over and over. What is she doing? Her new trajectory takes her directly toward the tip or (horrifyingly) past the tip of Cabo Corrientes, the mountainous peninsula that protects Puerto Vallarta ...and us.
I don't want to tell Craig yet. I'll watch a bit longer. Damn you, Patricia. Turn!
I'm receiving panicked emails from my sister and friends in the States telling us to "get out now, the hurricane is turning north!" I reply that there is no getting out, as all the roads from San Pancho lead directly into the hurricane's projected path. Here, we have a safe basement where we can hunker down with our water and food and mattresses and candles. We have our friends and neighbors: our community. Out there, we have panicky people on wet curvy roads racing to some imagined haven. No, we'll stay put, I tell them.
Checked our supplies one more time. It'll take us two minutes to grab the last box and the ice chest and get to the basement.
3:15 pm, Friday: Well, we're ready if it comes. It looks to me like the storm is heading slightly east again, but my eyes are crossed from studying moving satellite images on the computer screen. We decide to take advantage of the electricity that we still have and go inside and watch an episode of True Detectives, Season 2. We want distraction.
4:18 pm, Friday: Oh, my. A possible reprieve. Except for True Detectives, the past two hours have been hellish, waiting for the four o'clock National Hurricane Center update. And now I've read it and looked at all the new images and I think we shall indeed be spared the brunt of the storm.
4:55 pm, Friday: Patricia touched the shoreline a few minutes ago. I watched it happen on the satellite. I think it came in somewhere near the villages of Melaque, Barra de Navidad, La Manzanilla. Sweet villages, all of them. They must be getting hammered. I suppose we'll know by tomorrow exactly where the hurricane entered Mexico. I read earlier that around the eye of the storm circulates a scant 15 miles of the highest wind speeds ever reliably recorded in a tropical cyclone anywhere on earth. One of the writers I read likened it to a 15-mile wide F4 or F5 tornado. Sitting here right now, I can't even imagine what that must have been like, what damage it must have incurred, what the people must be suffering.
Here, the rain is falling more steadily, but the sky is still white-gray and the palms are barely moving in the breeze.
Given how near to us the storm made landfall, I expect some strong winds overnight tonight, maybe up to 60 miles an hour, but right now one would never know anything like that was out there.
Patricia is invisible to us.
5:20 pm, Friday: We still have power. I think the local deciders decided that there's no reason to turn it off yet. It is still perfectly calm here. I am pleased at their reasonableness and flexibility and relieved that we can continue to communicate with friends and family...and monitor the storm.
7:05 pm, Friday: The latest advisory released still has not removed the hurricane warning from our area.
Friday, 8:15 pm: We've been sitting at our customary table on the terrace having a few beers and watching the world from our perch. It's raining steadily, and the heat index is a lovely 30 degrees cooler than it was last night at this time, so we're comfortable. It is so uncharacteristically quiet, no one out and about and no traffic sounds from the highway which is still closed to traffic. In a few minutes I'll go make super nachos for dinner and we'll probably watch another episode. We have popcorn and Magnum Mini ice cream bars too.
Friday, 9 pm: I know the storm is creeping in right behind us. I'm looking at its photos and it sure looks like we should be getting some wind from its outer bands, but we're not. We've decided to sleep in the house. If it gets windy, I'll wake up and we can move downstairs if we feel the need.
Friday, 10:15 pm: I've read the 10:00 NHC update. The hurricane is weakening but it's only 50 miles south of us. Fifty miles! And nothing is happening here.
I send my last email of the day to family and friends telling them about our evening and our plan for tonight. Wonderful that we never lost power. Craig has gone to bed. We are exhausted, completely wrung out. I will follow shortly.
Saturday afternoon, Oct. 24: I was awakened just after 1:00 this morning by the deepest roll of thunder I've ever heard, like echoing bass drums. My eyes opened immediately. I heard another, then the curtains over the open window beside the bed blew out to horizontal. I got up and closed the window.
On and off through the night, each of us woke and heard the rain coming down. It sounded heavy, but it's amounted to less than 2" so far. This morning was beautiful and cool and calm.
The sun came out around 9:30, peeking through clouds at first, then steady and bright. Craig and I decided to go out to breakfast at Maria's. The town looks shiny and polished with all the surfaces still clean and wet. We saw half the people of San Pancho at Maria's or strolling past. Everyone is zombie-eyed this morning after that stressful day yesterday. Short chats, sharing stories of how it was for each of us, boggled amazement at having received nothing negative at all from Patricia, words of gratitude on everyone's lips.
We walked down to the beach after. Townfolk stood there, looking out at the ocean, shaking their heads and looking at each other in wonderment. "We're still here!" we heard, in both English and Spanish.
Sunday morning, Oct. 25: Last night we went to sunset to be with friends. We talked about how astonished we were that there had been no casualties from this monster storm. There is cleanup to do, some rebuilding in the towns nearest landfall, but Patricia was kind enough not to enter Mexico through a highly populated area and the Mexican government did a phenomenal job of protecting its citizens.
Thanks so much to all of you who called and emailed and sent messages for your care and love and support.
We released a globo last night, a paper hot air balloon on which all who were there at the beach wrote a message. A Gratitude Globo, we called it. It rose perfectly and straight up nearly to the clouds before it flickered out.
A few minutes after that, we watched the International Space Station pass by right over us. I waved to Scott and thanked him for the pictures.
San Pancho is safe.