June 3, 2010

Oh No! It's the Hurricane Season!

June 1st marked the beginning of the hurricane season through the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic. This could affect all of the countries with shores on these oceans, including Mexico and the USA. 'The Season' will continue until November. Historically, August, September and October are the months most likely to see a hurricane along these shores.

Time to panic? Not really. Time to learn about hurricanes and the unlikelihood of one occuring while you are in Mexico.

hurricane Katrina

What is a Hurricane?

Short answer: An intense amount of rotating wind.

Long answer: Hurricanes form over the ocean. It takes very specific conditions for this to happen. First the water in the ocean has to be warm enough, roughly around 27°C (80°F). Above this, the wind must be blowing constantly, in the same direction, lifting the heat from the ocean and forcing it upwards on air currents. This hot air rising collides with cooler air above and creates clouds. These have the potential to develop into a tropical storm.

Above the storm clouds, the cooler winds continue to flow outwards. This makes a funnel through which even more heated air is sucked up. (Imagine sucking soda up through a straw, it's the same principle, except this is pulling only air, not water.) More heated air clashes with more cooler air and the stormclouds get bigger and heavier.

If the system even gets this far, then this is where the vast majority of them end. There is a tropical storm. Everyone gets wet, unless they stayed inside. In which case, they're currently snug and dry, sipping their drinks, whilst talking about the weather.

However, on rare occasions, there is an extra element. These are light winds outside the 'funnel', which gently touch against it and start it moving. This is the Coriolis Force in action. If the winds were too heavy, then they'd be deflected; but light winds can just carry on by. The more they come, the more the movement, until it reaches a critical state of kinetic energy and the whole 'funnel' starts spinning. Now we have a hurricane.

Why is this so dangerous?

For those out at sea, it's dangerous because it's creating very rough conditions to be sailing in. Ocean currents will unexpectedly change and become very strong. Plus the base of the 'funnel' has sucked up a mound of ocean. It's like a travelling hill of water. It will also appear with little warning, creating short, steep waves, which are perilous to sail over. Maritime safety, in any country, recommends not sailing in or around a hurricane.

Where hurricanes make the news is when they make landfall. By now, the winds are spinning at 121-322 km/h (75-200m/h) and they still have that mound of water in their core. As the hurricane reaches the shore, the water is released, flooding coastal areas. The spiralling wind is strong enough to rip up buildings, toss cars like small toys and unroot forests. It will be moving fast.

It should be noted that at the center of the hurricane, there is an 'eye'. This is basically the 'funnel' and it's calm. The sun will be shining and the winds only very light. If you are in the eye of the hurricane, then what you have just experienced is going to happen again, as you come out of it. This could take a while. Hurricanes can grow up to 966km (600 miles) across.

Am I likely to encounter a hurricane in Cancún?

Very probably not, but there are no promises here during 'The Season'. There have only been four hurricanes, historically, which have touched Cancún:

Hurricane Inez - October 7th, 1966, landed in Cancún, as a category 4. It wasn't the great tourist destination that it is now, so was sparsely populated. 125mph winds brushed through from the north.

Hurricane Gilbert - September 14th, 1988, landed in Cozumel, as a category 5. It is worth noting that many of the residents of surrounding towns and villages were evacuated to Cancún as the hurricane approached. This is because Cancún had the sturdiest structures and was better placed, even then, to protect people. American author, Jules Siegel, was one of those affected. You can read his account on his website.

Hurricane Roxanne - October 9th, 1995, landed in Tulúm, as a category 3. In Cancún, 12,000 tourists and 3,900 residents were offered evacuation to downtown Cancún, which are on higher ground, but many chose to remain and see it out in the Hotel Zone. Those who did take up the offer were returned the next day to complete their vacation.

Hurricane Wilma - October 21st, 2005, landed in Cozumel, as a category 5. The authorities knew it was on the way, so, on October 19th, the tourists in Cancún were offered the choice between returning to their place of origin, evacuation further inland or a place in the Cancún hurricane shelters. The impact on the area was huge, but the official machine kicked into place. With a lot of structural damage in Cancún, most people couldn't just carry on with their vacations. The emphasis was on flying people home, so that the local people could get on with the business of rebuilding their city. Only one person died in Cancún itself, as a window was blown out. For those who lived through Hurricane Wilma in Cancún, you may be interested in Sue and John Spina's website: HurricaneWilmaCancun.com.

There have been impacts from other hurricanes, but only in excessive winds from those hitting further afield. The authorities are very vigilant and the majority of hotels in the Hotel Zone have been built to withstand hurricanes.

Now that you have been thoroughly frightened by this, tomorrow's blog will explain what to do in the event of a hurricane during your Mexican vacation. However, it is very unlikely that you will ever need it.

Please ignore, as this is to claim our blog at Technorati: DNCXD5QZJ7CC. Admin stuff...

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