So Hurricane Patricia has come and gone without causing the widespread chaos in Mexico that was feared. Thankfully not a single fatality has been recorded, and surely the weather forecasters and the Mexican Government deserve credit for better forward planning and better disaster management protocols.Thousands of residents and tourists ended up in improvised shelters, but many felt they had escaped lightly. Nice to have some good news to report for a change.
With past experiences in mind, Mexico prepared for the worst as Patricia approached. Before and after the hurricane, warnings blared on radio and television broadcasts across the region, and government pickup trucks with loudspeakers made their way through neighborhoods.
Tens of thousands of people along the coast were evacuated into shelters and out of the danger zone. Some piled into cars and buses; others took government-provided flights and ground transportation.
States of emergency were declared in Colima, Nayarit and Jalisco states, which include the tourist resorts of Puerto Vallarta and Manzanillo.
About 3,000 soldiers and more than 800 federal police officers were dispatched to the area. More than 1,200 shelters were set up, able to accommodate 240,000 people. Schools were closed and three airports shut down.
The alternative was starkly demonstrated the only other time a Category 5 hurricane hit the area.
The 1959 Mexico hurricane was the only other Pacific storm in recorded history to make landfall at Category 5 intensity. In addition, with 1,800 fatalities, it was the deadliest eastern Pacific tropical cyclone on record.
First observed south of Mexico on October 23, the cyclone tracked northwest. It intensified into a Category 3 hurricane on October 25 and reached Category 4 intensity the following day. After turning toward the northeast, the hurricane attained Category 5 status and made landfall near Manzanillo, Mexico. The system continued on that trajectory prior to dissipating on October 29.
Impact from the hurricane was severe and widespread. Initially forecast to remain offshore, the system instead curved northeast and moved ashore, becoming one of Mexico’s worst natural disasters at the time. Up to 150 boats were submerged. Countless homes in Colima and Jalisco were damaged or destroyed, large portions of the states were inaccessible by flash flooding, and hundreds of residents were stranded. All coconut plantations were blown down during the storm, leaving thousands without work and instating fear that it would take the economy years to recover.
Torrential rainfall across mountain terrain contributed to numerous mudslides that caused hundreds of fatalities.
In the aftermath of the cyclone, convoys delivering aid were hindered by the destruction. Residents were vaccinated to prevent the spread of disease. Overall, the hurricane inflicted at least $280 million (in US$ 1959 value) in damage.
It’s good to know we’re getting better at predicting and handling severe weather events. As climate change kicks in, they will become increasingly common, and increasingly deadly.