Towns on Mexico's Pacific coast are preparing for the strongest hurricane ever recorded in the Western Hemisphere to make landfall today. The state of Jalisco is directly in Hurricane Patricia's path, with Mexico's second-largest city Guadalajara as well as tourist destinations like Puerto Vallarta and Manzanilla in danger.

Evacuations in Puerto Vallarta and other coastal towns began yesterday, the Vallarta Daily reported, and 50,000 people are expected to leave their homes before this afternoon. The Mexican government has declared a state of emergency in 34 municipalities in Jalisco ahead of the storm, which Mexico's national weather service predicted will also cause heavy rains from Thursday to Saturday. Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto's office issued this warning, among others:

The hurricane has been classified as a Category 5 storm, the highest possible rating. It is projected to bring winds of 160 miles per hour by the time it makes landfall, with a risk of serious flooding in the region. According to the National Hurricane Center, a Category 5 hurricane usually means:

Catastrophic damage will occur: A high percentage of framed homes will be destroyed, with total roof failure and wall collapse. Fallen trees and power poles will isolate residential areas. Power outages will last for weeks to possibly months. Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months.

#HuracanPatricia was trending on Twitter in Mexico this morning:

The Associated Press reports that the population of Jalisco state is around 7.3 million according to the 2010 census, with 255,000 in Puerto Vallarta. "This is an extremely dangerous, potentially catastrophic hurricane," Dennis Feltgen, a meteorologist at the Hurricane Center in Miami, told the press agency, adding that Texas could see heavier rains as an after effect of the hurricane this weekend.

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It's already been a record-breaking year for severe storms in the Northern Hemisphere (the part of the globe above the equator). Hurricane Patricia is the 22nd Category 4 or 5 storm this year, breaking the previous record of 18 severe storms in 2004. In part, these weather events are being driven by El Niño, a weather cycle that causes warmer ocean temperatures in the Pacific and encourages tropical storm activity. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts that by the end of the 21st century, global warming will likely increase the number and severity of hurricanes.