Britton 1 John Britton 20208422 Geography 206 Dr. Brent Doberstein 28 February 2008 Hurricane Mitch Nineteen ninety eight was an extremely active year for tropical cyclones in Britton 2 the Atlantic basin. Hurricane Mitch highlights this group, being the biggest and by far deadliest of the season. That October, powerful Hurricane Mitch moved throughout Central America up to Florida, leaving in it‟s wake death and destruction through extreme precipitation and many detrimental human factors. Mitch was at it‟s peak a tremendous category 5 hurricane, slowing as it hit land. Over 10,000 deaths and billions in damage were caused by Mitch, through it‟s extreme amounts of rainfall, and human susceptibility towards flooding, landslides, disease and famine. Physical Description Hurricane Mitch highlights this group, being the biggest and by far deadliest of the season. What started out as a wave moving across the southern portion of West Africa in early October would eventually pan out into a category 5 hurricane. That wave moved, “Over the next 7 days, west-southwesterly upper- level winds prevents significant development as the wave progressed across the tropical Atlantic” (Pasch et al., 2001). Shower and thunderstorm activity was present as it continued over the southwest Caribbean Sea on October 21 st. It was then upgraded to a tropical disturbance on the 22nd of October, and two days later it was Hurricane Mitch on October the 24th in the Atlantic Ocean. On October 26th, Mitch reached category 5 intensity, and maintained that strength for an incredible 33 hours. “Of the five most intense Atlantic Hurricane on record, Mitch stands alone as having been a Category 5 monster the longest,” (Bentley & Horstymeyer, 1999). It would be soon that it‟s intensity diminished “Mitch began to gradually Britton 3 weaken while moving slowly westward. It then turned southwestward and southward toward the Bay Islands off the coast of Honduras.” (Pasch et al., 2001) Eventually it would hit land, “Mitch slowly weakened as it‟s circulation interacted with the landmass of Honduras.” (Pasch et al., 2001) The land mass would then cause Mitch to move slowly southward, turning southwestward and then westward over Honduras. It was then weakened to a tropical storm on October 30th, and a tropical depression later in the day on October 31st. “The overall motion was slow, less than 4 kt a week, for a week. This resulted in a tremendous amount of rainfall, as high as 900 mm or more, primarily over Honduras and Nicaragua.” (Pasch et al., 2001) The remnants of Mitch were tracked over the Bay of Campeche. Shower and thunderstorms increased, and on November 3rd, 45 kt winds were found, indicating the redevelopment of a tropical storm. “The storm began to accelerate northeastward, as it became involved with a frontal zone moving through the eastern Gulf of Mexico. Mitch made landfall on the morning of 5 November in southwest Florida near Naples, with estimated maximum sustained winds of 55 kt.” (Pasch et al., 2001) See figure 1 below for a map of Mitch‟s path. Figure 1 QuickTime™ an d a Britton 4 Source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/d6/Mitch_1998_track.png Disaster Damages As Mitch hit the Bay Islands of Honduras early on October 29th, it was bringing with it a world of destruction for Central America. It stalled over Nicaragua and Honduras, killing over 10,000 people, affecting 6.7 million and causing as much as US $8.5 billion in damages. “Mitch was one of the deadliest Atlantic hurricanes in recorded history, ranking second to the „Great Hurricane‟ in the Lesser Antilles” (Pielke et al, 101) Table 1 below illustrates the life lost in Central American and Caribbean Hurricanes. Britton 5 Source: Pielke et al, 102 Mitch moved through the mountains of Honduras, unloading massive amounts of rainfall there. “The water then cascaded down the steep slopes and was funneled into the narrow valleys, creating unprecedented flooding.” (Bentley & Horstmeyer, 1999) This would sweep away many houses, buildings and people. “In several locations banana plantation workers waited for two weeks on rooftops for the water to recede,” (Bentley & Horstmeyer, 1999). Others would not prove to be so lucky, like the town of Posoltega in Nicaragua, “Mitch was the apocalypse... a terrible, towering wall of mud that just fell out of the clouds. The town was buried alive.” (Padgett & Managua, 1998) As the news of this disaster reached the world, $100 million in aid poured in, “But, Central America‟s development, which lagged far behind the rest of the world before the hurricane, has been set back decades.” (Padgett & Managua, 1998) In Honduras alone, 35,000 homes were demolished, with another 50,000 damaged. One can‟t put a price tag on how many lives are changed and ruined. “There was an estimated 60% loss to crops... and more then 92 bridges damaged or destroyed.” (Cockburn et al., 1999) Honduras‟s entire infrastructure was damaged, entire communities isolated from outside assistance. Florida and the United States were hit nothing like Central America, but did have ample damage. “The Florida tornadoes damaged or destroyed 645 homes. The total Britton 6 estimated U.S. damage from Mitch is $40 million.” (Pasch et al., 2001) For the U.S. it is a relatively small number, but still a sufficient amount of damage. Root Causes of Hurricane Mitch The root cause of Mitch can be traced back to a tropical wave that moved across the southern portion of Africa on the 8th and 9th of October. “The wave progressed across the tropical Atlantic for the next seven days with west- southwesterly upper level winds preventing significant development” (Guiney & Lawrence, 1998). Mitch moved across the Atlantic for the next 10 days gaining strength. “Of particular interest is the tropical region from the Caribbean Sea eastward to near the coast of Africa. Here, sea surface temperatures were as much as 1oC above normal. The warmer than normal waters may have been a contributing factor to above normal Tropical Cyclone activity.” (Copley, 1998) Not only would this Hurricane pick up speed, but it would also cause more evaporation. This added evaporation of water would eventually lead to more precipitation, as what goes up eventually must come down. “Table 2 lists the rainfall observations from Honduras, with a maximum of 35.89 inches (911 mm) from Choluteca. Even higher values may have gone unobserved.” (Guiney & Lawrence, 1998). Storm surges were also evident, but not a huge factor, only affecting the coast of Florida minimally. The high rainfall was a root cause from Mitch, that would eventually lead to many secondary causes, like flooding, landslides and diseases. Table 2 - Hurricane Mitch selected Honduras rainfall totals, 25-31 October 1998. Britton 7 Source: http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/1998mitch.html#TABLE2 Secondary Causes As the record rainfalls fell in Honduras, it brought along with it many different challenges for the country. Honduras is a very economically poor country, which meant that many of it‟s residents were in areas extremely susceptible to flooding, “the damages were borne primarily by the poorest sectors of the population, many of whom lived in areas that were most exposed to floods and landslides in fragile housing that offered little protection” (NACLA, 1999). Much of the countries infrastructure was destroyed, “Lack of potable water, damaged sanitation facilities, and increased mosquito populations from standing water added greatly to the death toll. The country was unorganized” (Nicholls, 2000) The lack of organization and initial mobilized support surely was Britton 8 a factor in the death of thousands of humans throughout Central America. Humans had a very large part in much of the destruction, with deforestation causing concern for many, "The crucial thing is removing vegetation - if you take that out of the system, you've lost the natural bonding and the area will be prone to gully erosion and mass movement... A lot of land has been cleared for grazing and building, and slopes are steep, making the area typical for landsliding” (Copley, 1998) Entire communities were crushed by these landslides. Farmers crops were completely washed away, and the ones that stayed weren‟t much use, “After Mitch, much of the stored harvest that had not disappeared in the raging torrents was wet and moldy. At least 60 percent of the first harvest was lost. The second planting never had a chance, as the freshly plowed topsoil readily eroded in the unrelenting rain and runoff,” (Bentley & Horstmeyer, 1999). Farming employs over 60% of the Honduran working population, and most of the countries GDP. Of the approximately 10,000 people dead, many of them were populations more susceptible to disaster, “Many, if not most of Mitch's victims were youngsters--including not only those who drowned but also those whose malnourished bodies were no match for the deadly septic infections set free in the waters... those whom the floodwaters did not kill face the problems of isolation, starvation, disease and neglect--the normal stuff of tragedy in Central America, made hundreds of times worse by Mitch's murderous rains.” (Padgett & Managua, 1998) Conclusion Britton 9 October 1998 will never be forgotten for Central America. Honduras and Nicaragua are still today feeling the effects from hurricane Mitch. Their infrastructure and progress was damaged brutally by the storm. No amount of money, aid, and supplies will be able to fill the void of the thousands of people lost, “One Honduran put it, „As you can see, the tragedy is bigger than anyone can imagine. No Honduran ever expected this to happen and now we are in God's hands,‟” (Bentley & Horstmeyer, 1999). Works Cited Britton 10 Bentley, Mace, and Steve Horstmeyer. "Monstrous Mitch." Weatherwise 52(1999): 14-18. Cockburn, Alexander, Jeffrey St. Clair , and Ken Silverstein. "The Politics of "Natural" Disaster: Who Made Mitch so Bad?." International Journal of Health Services 29(1999): 459-462. Copley, Jon. "Why a weakening hurricane wrought so much havoc." This week (1998): 55. Guiney, John and Miles Lawrence. "Preliminary Report - Hurricane Mitch." National Hurricane Center 28 JAN 1999 28 FEB 2008 . Padgettt, Tim, and Tim Managua. "Muderous Mitch." Time 20(1998): 66-67. Nicholls, Neville. "Atmospheric and Climatic Hazards: Improved Monitoring and Prediction for Disaster Mitigation." Natural Hazards 23(2001): 137-155. Pasch, Richard J., Lixion Avila, and John Guiney. "Atlantic Hurricane Season of 1998." Monthly Weather Review 129(2001): 3085-3123.