Will Hurricane Willa Hit a Refugee Caravan in Mexico?

As a caravan of thousands of hopeful asylum-seekers from Central America continued to swell as the annual pilgrimage entered Mexico, so did rumors about them in the United States.

One such rumor appeared on October 21, 2018, just after the group left Guatemala and entered Mexico:

It appears that the migrant caravan, which has been reported to upward of 10,000 strong, might run into some extra trouble on their march to seek American asylum. A massive hurricane (named Willa) is set to cross the path that the migrants will eventually cross.

The story accurately references Weather.com, which ran a story about two major storms affecting Mexico’s Pacific coast:

Hurricane Willa has rapidly intensified into a dangerous Category 4 hurricane and is expected to strengthen further early this week. Damaging winds, flooding rain and a potentially destructive storm surge will threaten Mexico’s Pacific coastline by midweek.

Tropical Storm Vicente also poses a heavy rain threat to Mexico in the week ahead.

Willa is tracking north-northwestward but is expected to slowly recurve toward the north Monday and the north-northeast by Tuesday. It should approach landfall along the southwestern coast of mainland Mexico by late Tuesday, which is expected to occur anywhere from near or north of Mazatlán to near Puerto Vallarta.

What this story and others like it don’t take into account is Mexico itself. The country’s immensity is often overlooked on a map, dominated as it is by the rest of North America above it and all of Central and South America below. (The way countries are assigned size on various maps, particularly the extremely common Mercator projection map, may also have something to do with it.)

Hurricane Willa was projected to make landfall between Puerto Vallarta and Mazatlán, according to the article:

By comparison, the caravan that is creating such a stir among certain members of American elected officials remains so far south that it is barely visible on the above map. As of October 23, 2018, the caravan had entered Huixtla in the southern Mexico state of Chiapas (Mexico is a federation of 32 states, including its capital and federal seat, Mexico City; its full name is Estados Unidos Mexicanos, or the United Mexican States) more than 1,100 miles (1,900 km) away from Puerto Vallarta, a fact belied by every headline reporting that the caravan was “marching” or “advancing” on the United States as though their arrival at its border was imminent when really the distance from Huixtla to Puerto Vallarta, let alone Mazatlán, is greater than the distance between Los Angeles, California, and Portland, Oregon:

Not even the hardiest supercell would be able to make that journey intact, and certainly not Willa, which is already weakening — although the hurricane is nothing to sneeze at by either Mexico or the United States.

Tropical Storm Vicente has already left at least eleven people dead on Mexico’s southern coast, making landfall in Oaxaca state. That was closer to the caravan’s location on October 23, but not enough to make a difference, as the two regions remain at least 400 miles (650 km) apart.