Weather » Hurricanes in the Yucatan Peninsula

Hurricanes in the Yucatan Peninsula

With 26 named tropical storms, of which three developed into Category-5 hurricanes (Katrina, Rita, and Wilma), the 2005 hurricane season was the most active in the Atlantic's recorded history. The hurricanes causing human casualties and economic devastation in Mexico in this period were Emily (battering Cozumel with 135 mph winds and flooding), Stan (causing torrential rains and mudslides in southern Chiapas and much of Central America) and Wilma (shredding Cancún and Cozumel's beaches for 53 hours). This last was a Category-5 hurricane, declared by officials the most destructive in Mexican history. It will leave its mark on the region for years to come.

However, hurricanes are a familiar phenomenon in this part of the world—even the word "hurricane" is said to be derived from "Huracan," a Mayan god known to blow his breath across the chaotic water, destroying men with great storms and floods. Tourists can be confident that authorities know how to preserve their safety, and should heed their advice and experience. Many tourists during the hurricanes were impressed by the fast action, good teamwork, and generosity of locals.

According to specialists from the U.S. National Hurricane Center, the 2005 intense storm season could become a regular occurrence. The active period, which could last up to forty years, is the result of favorable wind patterns, higher sea surface temperatures, and other conditions. The hurricane season officially begins June 1st and concludes November 30th, although hurricanes are not generally seen until August.

Rising global temperatures are threatening to change the scheduling, as tropical storms have occurred as early as June 8th and as late as November 29th. Warmer weather is conducive to hurricane activity, and there is no expectation that this pattern will change any time soon.

The increased frequency of storms does not mean that you should change your vacation plans. It is important to be prepared so you can respond appropriately and avoid being a victim. For up-to-date hurricane forecasts, see hurricane.com. Below we have compiled an informative hurricane safety guide which, when followed, will help minimize injury or death.

Before a Hurricane:

Protección Civil (civilian protection) will have a list of zones that are at risk of storm surge, high winds, or flooding, including evacuation procedures when necessary. They offer practical advice on how to prepare for the hurricane, principally how to protect your residence, but also where to find local areas designated as shelters.

If you are in a hotel, the management should relay the relevant information to you, but if you are not advised, ask. If you are renting a house or in your own home, call Protección Civil for this information, and to report how many people are with you, especially if any are ill or handicapped. Make sure you have a radio that you can keep on at all times to listen for information and instructions from official news sources. Be sure to have plenty of tape for your windows. Decide in which room you and your companions will wait out the storm, remembering that it should be windowless, or have as few windows possible.

Phone numbers are included with each city's emergency phone number listing for this region. If you do not speak Spanish, ask where to receive emergency information, including updates as the storm develops and recedes, in English. Be aware that you may be asked to evacuate, so be prepared to do so immediately.

You should have with you a first-aid kit and instruction manual (manuals are available at your local Mexican Health Center or Centro de Salúd), a radio and battery-powered flashlight (with extra batteries), a thermos of boiled water, nonperishable food, flotation devices (such as life jackets or a boat), and your important documents wrapped in a plastic bag so they do not get wet. Have warm and rainproof clothing on hand in case of evacuation.

To prepare your house, close all windows and doors. Tape windows forming an X shape and tape down breakables. Close curtains or blinds to help protect against flying glass shards. If you have no rooms without windows, protect yourself behind an overturned table or heavy sofa in case glass begins flying. Store all loose exterior objects (flower pots, garbage cans, tools, etc.) that could be blown into your window. Take down television antennas and other hanging objects. Check on the elderly, e.g. neighbors, and anyone who may need assistance.

During a Hurricane:

Keep calm and reassure your family or group. Think twice before speaking or taking action to be sure you do not make others nervous or react in a panic.

You should disconnect all electrical devices and circuit breakers, turn off the gas and water, keep away from doors and windows, and continuously check the level of water outside your house. Because candles are a potential fire hazard, it is better to use battery-powered flashlights.

Listen to your radio to get updated hurricane information and instructions. Do not attempt to leave your house until the authorities have announced that the danger has passed. Remember that the eye of the hurricane creates a deceptive calm that can last up to an hour, followed by another destructive force of wind blowing in the opposite direction.

After a Hurricane:

Keep calm and follow emergency instructions given by Protección Civil or other local authorities. Immediately report any injuries to emergency services.

Be sure that your food is clean and not contaminated, and treat any not-bottled water. Wearing closed-toe shoes, inspect the house for structural dangers. If your house has suffered no damage, remain there. If your housing is in an affected zone, leave and do not return until the authorities give the green light.

Continue to leave the gas, electricity, and water disconnected until you can be sure there are no leaks or possible dangers of short circuiting. Carefully clean up any toxic, medicinal, or flammable substances. Clean excess water from your house to avoid mosquito clusters. Check that all electrical appliances are dry before connecting them.

Authors: Robert H. Page, MD and Curtis P. Page, MD are authors of the MEXICO: Health and Safety Travel Guide and the Healthy Traveler Regional Series. For more information visit medtogo.com