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Climate History: Hurricane Mitch


In October of 1998, on the date of the 22nd, Hurricane Mitch began to form, later becoming one of the most deadly and destructive hurricanes in history. Its monstrous amounts of rainfall left millions homeless throughout Central America and had a property damage of approximately $6 billion. At first, it began as a tropical depression, which is where a low pressure area is accompanied by thunderstorm activity. Later that day in the Caribbean Sea, it upgraded to a tropical storm; this is when the cyclonic circulation becomes more organized and the naming of the storm takes place. It was officially titled Tropical Storm Mitch. It only took two more days to finally be classified as a hurricane.

To be categorized as a hurricane, wind speeds must reach above 74 mph, according to the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale. The scale is a one-to-five rating based on a hurricane’s maximum sustained wind speed, and once it reaches Category three, it is considered major. Hurricane Mitch reached its peak intensity on October 26th, becoming a Category five hurricane. It had sustained winds of 180 mph and a low pressure of 905 mb, making it the lowest recorded pressure for any storm ever recorded in the Atlantic during October.

On October 27th, Mitch moved towards the northeastern coast of Honduras, dumping heavy rain, and causing flash floods and mudslides. Mitch’s center made landfall in La Ceiba, Honduras on the 29th, slowly moving through Nicaragua, Guatemala, Belize, and El Salvador. Rainfall exceeded 30 inches along the coast, reaching 50 inches in the interior areas. 19,325 lives were lost, and thousands of homes and crops were obliterated. After devastating Central America, Mitch moved across the sea and downgraded to a tropical storm and hit Florida, eventually dissipating over the Atlantic.

Hurricane season is worsening with every year due to climate change. Ocean and atmospheric temperatures are critical to hurricane development; when water evaporates from the ocean’s surface and condenses into rain, heat is released, which also results in stronger winds. Though the frequency of hurricanes in the future are unclear, scientists do know that the natural disasters will intensify with an increase in surges, rain, and wind.

With global warming on the rise, we can expect more serious storms to transform into hurricanes. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is essential in reducing the risk, as well as building resilience. Improving coastal infrastructure, preserving coastal wetlands to absorb storm surges, and preparing the targeted community through awareness are all actions that can be made.


Citations

  1. “Hurricane Mitch” Britannica https://www.britannica.com/event/Hurricane-Mitch

  2. “Primer: What's the Difference Between a Tropical Depression, Tropical Storm and Hurricane?” AccuWeather https://www.climatesignals.org/resources/primer-whats-difference-between-tropical-depression-tropical-storm-and-hurricane

  3. “Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale” NOAA https://www.nhc.noaa.gov/aboutsshws.php

  4. “Hurricanes: Science and Society” Hurricane Science http://www.hurricanescience.org/history/storms/1990s/mitch/

  5. “10 of the most notorious October hurricanes in the Atlantic” Chaffin Mitchell https://www.accuweather.com/en/hurricane/most-notorious-october-hurricanes-in-the-atlantic/356160

  6. “Here’s What We Know About How Climate Change Fuels Hurricanes” Mathew Barlow And Suzana J. Camargo https://news.climate.columbia.edu/2022/10/03/heres-what-we-know-about-how-climate-change-fuels-hurricanes/

  7. “Hurricanes and Climate Change” C2ES https://www.c2es.org/content/hurricanes-and-climate-change/




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