Tropical Storms and Hurricanes in Mexico, Central America Have Tragic History

Chris Dolce
Published: June 13, 2018

Central America is no stranger to tropical storms or hurricanes. This part of the world has suffered large death tolls, topping 1,000 in some cases, from tropical cyclones in recent history.

Many times, it's not the wind or storm surge that causes the large loss of life, but rather rainfall flooding and the resulting mudslides. This is particularly the case with slow-moving storms or storms that move into regions with mountainous terrain, where rainfall is enhanced.

(MORE: Tropical Cyclones Are Moving Slower, And That's Not Good News)

Here are some of the storms in recent history that had large death tolls from flooding in Central America and Mexico.

Hurricane Nate (October 2017)

Nate triggered deadly flooding in Central America in October 2017 before impacting the U.S. northern Gulf Coast and southeastern states.

The devastation it caused in Costa Rica was one of the country's worst natural disasters in modern history, the Costa Rica Star reported.

(MORE: Hurricane Nate Recap)

Flooding and mudslides in Central America damaged or destroyed thousands of homes, with Costa Rica and Nicaragua suffering the greatest damage, according to the National Hurricane Center's (NHC) tropical cyclone report on Hurricane Nate.

There was also significant damage to agriculture and the transportation infrastructure in Central America, with the Instituto Meteorológico Nacional of Costa Rica reporting a total of $562 million in damage, the NHC's report added.

Costa Rica problems... sorry Clients we’ll be back online soon!

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Nate was directly responsible for 45 deaths: 16 in Nicaragua, 13 in Costa Rica, six in Panama, five in Guatemala, three in Honduras, one in El Salvador and one in Panama.

Due to this devastation, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) decided in its April 2018 meeting to retire the name Nate, so it will never again be used for an Atlantic Basin tropical storm or hurricane.

(MORE: Harvey, Irma, Maria and Nate Retired Following Devastating 2017 Atlantic Hurricane Season)

Manuel and Ingrid (September 2013)

Satellite image showing Ingrid and Manuel near Mexico on Sept. 15, 2013.

Ingrid and Manuel affected Mexico at about the same time in September 2013. Both storms dumped torrential rainfall for days that led to major flooding and mudslides.

The death toll from the two storms combined was at least 155, according to an NHC report.

The Gulf Coast region of northeastern Mexico took the brunt of the impacts from Ingrid. Up to 20.11 inches of rain was reported in Tuxpan. Ingrid was responsible for 32 deaths and forced thousands to evacuate.

Manuel produced severe flooding impacts on the Pacific coast of Mexico, where at least 132 fatalities were blamed on the storm. Road access in the region where it hit was cut off in some areas.

The NHC report said there was one rainfall total of 43.6 inches measured near Acapulco from Sept. 12 to 20, 2013.

Impacts from the storms were so severe that the WMO retired both names from ever being used again in their respective ocean basins.

(MORE: Ingrid and Manual Retired)

Hurricane Stan (October 2005)

A rescue team walks in a flooded street in the El Modelo neighborhood on Oct. 4, 2005, in San Salvador, El Salvador.
(YURI CORTEZ/AFP/Getty Images)

Stan first impacted Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula as a tropical storm before emerging into the Bay of Campeche, where it became a Category 1 hurricane. Shortly thereafter, Stan made landfall to the southeast of Veracruz, Mexico, on Oct. 4, 2005.

Once again, heavy rain and the resulting flash floods and mudslides were the biggest impacts from Stan.

The death toll directly related to Stan is impossible to know, the NHC report said. This because Stan's remnant was caught in a larger, broad area of low pressure that was also generating heavy rainfall in southern Mexico, Guatemala and El Salvador.

The NHC said 1,000 to 2,000 lives were lost due to severe flash flooding and mudslides in Mexico and Central America, particularly in Guatemala.

Hurricane Mitch (October 1998)

Flood damage along the Choluteca River caused by Hurricane Mitch in 1998 in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.

Hurricane Mitch approached the coast of Honduras as a powerful Category 5 in late October 2005. However, Mitch slowed significantly before moving inland and weakened to a Category 1 at landfall.

Because Mitch was still powerful near the coast of Honduras before landfall, offshore islands and the coast saw plenty of destruction.

However, Mitch's most deadly impact was from the heavy rainfall it produced as it moved slowly across the mountainous terrain of Honduras. Massive river flooding and mudslides destroyed a large amount of the infrastructure in Honduras, according to a report from NOAA. Severe impacts were also felt in parts of Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador and Belize.

Entire villages were wiped out by the flooding and mudslides. The number of homes destroyed was in the hundreds of thousands.

A large majority of the deaths from Mitch were in Honduras and Nicaragua. All together, Mitch is estimated to have killed more than 9,000 people.

Hurricane Fifi (September 1974)

Satellite image of Hurricane Fifi near landfall.

Hurricane Fifi moved inland across the mountains of Central America and southern Mexico in September 1974.

Massive river flooding occurred in the hardest-hit country of Honduras. It was this flooding that caused most of the deaths and destruction, according to the NHC report.

The total number of deaths listed for Fifi is 8,000, but some estimates are up to 10,000 and others are as low as 3,000.

(MORE: Deadliest Atlantic Hurricanes)

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