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Mitch - 1998
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HURRICANE MITCH

mitch1998.jpg
Powerful Category Five Hurricane Mitch in the Southern Caribbean

A tropical wave moved off the coast of Africa and into the far eastern Atlantic Ocean on October 10. The wave tracked westward over the next week, not developing due to continuous wind shear. When the wave entered the Caribbean Sea on October 18, the system began to become more impressive on satellite imagery. Deep convection became more persistent on October 21, and a hurricane hunter aircraft deemed the system Tropical Depression Thirteen that day, when a pressure of 1001 mbar and a closed circulation was found. The depression was located about 360 miles south of Kingston, Jamaica. Movement to the west was rather brisk at first, but when the depression strengthened into Tropical Storm Mitch on October 22, it slowed greatly and became semi-stationary. Mitch moved in a cyclonic loop through October 23, and development was hindered due to wind shear. The shear let off later on the 23rd, and the system began to drift north and strengthen. Mitch reached hurricane strength early on October 24, when situated about 255 miles south-southwest of Kingston, Jamaica.

As the storm began to curve to the west on the 24th, Mitch went into a lengthy period of rapid intensification. The pressure dropped 52 mbar in 24 hours, and the wind speeds were at 135 mph by the afternoon on October 25. The strengthening continued in the hot Caribbean waters, and Mitch reached a peak intensity on October 26 with a monumental pressure of 905 mbar, and winds of 180 mph, making the storm a powerful, and eventually deadly Category 5 hurricane. The pressure of 905 mbar made Mitch at one time the strongest hurricane on record in October, until 2005 when Wilma would blow it out of the water. Mitch was also the fourth strongest hurricane by pressure on record in the Atlantic Basin at the time, but is tied with Camille for seventh place as of 2006. On October 27, Mitch gradually began to weaken, as all storms do. The storm turned to the southwest, and then south as it moved in on Central America. The storm began to stall and linger off the coast of Honduras on the 27th, and it remained there through October 29, as it steadily weakened due to interactions with the land during that time.

The storm finally made its landfall on the morning of the 29th about 70 miles east of La Cieba, Honduras with winds of 95 mph. Mitch continued its slow and erratic movement once on land, and weakened to a tropical storm on October 30, then curving to the west again and finally gaining some forward motion. The storm weakened to a depression on October 31, and then the circulation center dissipated near the border of Mexico and Guatemala on November 1. Despite this, the storm continued to pound the area with heavy rains. After emerging in the Bay of Campeche on November 2, it appeared to have re-organized itself, and was deemed Tropical Storm Mitch once again late on November 3, when located about 130 miles southwest of Merida, Mexico. Mitch moved to the northeast and made landfall on the Yucatan Peninsula early on November 4, and weakened to a depression once again. Late on November 4, the center emerged over water once again, this time in the Gulf of Mexico. It regained tropical storm strength and accelerated before striking south Florida near Naples with winds of 65 mph on November 5. Mitch lots its tropical characteristics over land, and it became fully extratropical after emerging in the Atlantic Ocean on November 6. The remnant was tracked to the northeast across the North Atlantic until November 9.

Hurricane Mitch was and is the second deadliest hurricane on record in the Atlantic Basin. The endless flooding rains triggered mudslides that killed anywhere from a total of 9,000 to 18,000 people. Over half of the deaths occurred in Honduras, with the majority of the remaining deaths occurring in Nicaragua, Guatemala, and El Salvador. The exact total will likely never be known, as 9,086 were reported dead, and another 9,191 were reported missing. Again, the total makes Mitch the second deadliest hurricane on record in the Atlantic Basin, second only to the “Great Hurricane” of 1780. An extremely lower death toll was reported in the United States, with a mere two deaths, both drowning related in Florida. Honduras suffered a fifty percent loss of agricultural crops, and 70,000 homes were damages, with 92 bridges damaged or destroyed. Guatemala, Nicaragua, and El Salvador all reported flash floods. Mitch went on a tornado-spawning rampage when it reached Florida, injuring 65 and destroying a whopping 645 homes. A total damage estimate in the United States stands at 40 million dollars.

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