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Tropical Storm Pilar may become next quick-strengthening hurricane in wake of Otis

AccuWeather meteorologists are keeping their eyes on Tropical Storm Pilar, which is currently drifting off the El Salvador coast. Conditions could allow it to intensify rapidly, similar to Otis and Norma earlier this month.

On Saturday afternoon, Tropical Depression 19-E formed in the eastern Pacific a few hundred miles to the southwest of El Salvador. Amid favorable conditions, the depression strengthened into a tropical storm later Sunday evening.

Tropical Storm Pilar swirling off the coast of El Salvador, as seen on AccuWeather RealVue™ Enhanced Satellite as of Monday morning, Oct. 30, 2023.

"Water temperatures are well into the 80s F in the region, which is well above the threshold of 80 degrees to foster tropical development," AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Adam Douty said.

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"There is very little wind shear affecting the system," Douty added. Wind shear is represented by stiff breezes blowing from one direction or shifting directions that can hinder or prevent tropical development when strong.

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Both low wind shear and very warm water were present when Otis rapidly intensified earlier this week. Otis transitioned from a 70-mph tropical storm to a 160-mph Category 5 hurricane on the Saffir Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale in 12 hours. Otis made landfall near Acapulco with maximum sustained winds of 165 mph, which had deadly and devastating consequences. Otis was the only Category 5 hurricane on record to hit the Acapulco area.

The system has enough time to develop through this weekend and into early next week with a chance of it becoming a hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 74 mph or greater.

"Tropical Storm Pilar is likely to track in farther to the south along the coast when compared to Otis," Douty said. While that is good news in Acapulco, where search, rescue and recovery operations are underway in the wake of Otis, Pilar could deal a heavy blow to areas farther to the south along the Pacific coast, should it make a turn back toward the east or northeast.

AccuWeather is projecting Tropical Storm Pilar to take a meandering path through the weekend. It will likely turn to the east during the early to middle part of next week before the system makes landfall anywhere from Nicaragua to the southern part of Mexico. There is also no guarantee the system will strike land due to light steering breezes.

Near where Tropical Storm Pilar moves ashore will be the likelihood of heavy rain, flash flooding, mudslides, damaging winds and storm surge. How extreme these conditions are will depend on the strength of Pilar as it nears the coast and pushes inland. However, downpours and rough surf may affect coastal areas as far south as Nicaragua and as far to the north as the Mexico state of Chiapas.

The current AccuWeather forecast for Tropical Storm Pilar calls for wind gusts of 40-60 mph (65-95 km/h) to impact much of El Salvador and the far southeastern coast of Guatemala, along with up to 4-8 inches (100-200 mm) of rain from Monday through Wednesday. The AccuWeather Local StormMax™ for wind is 85 mph (135 km/h) and 16 inches (405 mm) for rain.

Tropical Storm Pilar is also being noted for how unusually far south it has formed. According to AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Jake Sojda, if Pilar makes landfall in El Salvador, it would only be the second named storm on record to do so with the first and only so far being Selma in 2017.

AccuWeather meteorologists will continue to monitor the situation closely and will provide updates as it approaches land.

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