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Analysis: Hurricane Patricia: ‘The most that can be claimed is that Hurricane Patricia is the strongest hurricane in Eastern Pacific in last 30 years or so’

Hurricane Patricia

By Paul Homewood Despite apocalyptic forecasts, what has been touted as “the strongest hurricane ever recorded in the Americas”, has made landfall in Mexico with relatively little damage so far. According to the Telegraph: Hurricane Patricia, the record-breaking category 5 hurricane, rumbled across western Mexico early on Saturday, uprooting trees and triggering some landslides but causing less damage than feared for such a massive storm, officials said. But almost five hours after landfall, President Enrique Pena Nieto addressed the nation on television, saying that the first reports “confirm that the damages have been smaller than those corresponding to a hurricane of this magnitude.” Fortunately, no deaths have been reported yet, although the storm remains a danger as it moves inland. Claimed “record wind speeds”, of course, rely on satellite measurements that we have only had for a few decades. Prior to that, we had to rely on ship and airplane measurements that were at best patchy, and tended to underestimate wind speeds as pilots were reluctant to fly into the centre of the most powerful hurricanes, understandably! Similarly, wind speeds on landfall relied on anemometors, which weren’t always where the highest speeds were, and too often were destroyed by high winds. About the most that can be claimed, therefore, is that Hurricane Patricia is the strongest hurricane in the Eastern Pacific in the last 30 years or so. However, any suggestion that Patricia is somehow unprecedented in recent history ignores the “Mexico” hurricane of 1959, also referred to by NOAA as “the Great Hurricane of 1959”. Ironically, this hurricane made landfall at the exact same place on the coast, Manzanillo. According to Wikipedia: The hurricane had devastating effects on the places it hit. It killed at least 1,000 people directly, and a total of 1,800 people. At that time, it was Mexico’s worst natural disaster in recent times. Most of the destruction was in Colima and Jalisco. A preliminary estimate of property damage was $280 million (1959 USD). The storm sank three merchant ships, and two other vessels. On one ship, the Sinaloa, 21 of 38 hands went down. On another, the El Caribe, all hands were lost. As many as 50 total boats were sunk. A quarter of the homes in Cihuatlán, Jalisco, were totally destroyed, leaving many homeless. In Manzanillo, Colima, 40 percent of all homes were destroyed, and four ships in the harbor were sunk. Large portions of Colima and Jalisco were isolated by flooding. Hundreds of people were stranded. Minatitlán, Colima, suffered especially, as 800 people out of its population of 1000 were dead or missing, according to a message sent to President Adolfo López Mateos. In Colima, all coconut plantations were blown down and thousands of people were left out of work. That state’s economy was damaged enough that officials thought it would take years to recover. The hurricane also dumped heavy rains along its path. This water-logged the hills near Minatitlán, and contributed to huge mudslide late on October 29 that claimed 800 victims. The slide uncovered hundreds of venomous scorpions and snakes, which killed tens more people in the aftermath. Additional hordes of scorpions were driven from their nests when the adobe walls crumbled away. The Governor of Colima, Rodolfo Chávez Carrillo and his wife issued a plea for venom inoculations afterwards In some places, the mud was 10 feet (3.0 m) deep. Water supplies were badly polluted, both by debris and dead bodies. The US National Archives have this original Universal Newsreel of the disaster. Mercifully, Patricia has proved to be far less damaging.

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