The 2008 Atlantic Basin Hurricane Season officially draws to a close on Sunday, 30th November. It was an unprecedented season, with 16 named storms, 8 of these reaching hurricane strength and 5 becoming major hurricanes of Cat 3 intensity or greater. We had three Cat IV hurricanes namely: Gustav, Ike, Paloma. Two of the eight hurricanes reached Cat III strength, namely: Bertha and Omar. The other minor hurricanes were: Dolly, Hanna and Kyle. Additionally, T.D. #16 which developed around mid October in the western Caribbean off the NE coast of Nicaragua, must be considered as a significant tropical cyclone for this Season because of the havoc it wreaked in the form of torrential rainfall and record floods across Honduras, Guatemala, Belize and southern Mexico.
As we may recall NOAA and Professor William Gray et al. at Colorado State University updated their May hurricane season forecast in early August, increasing the number of named storms expected for the season. The final prediction was for 14-18 named storms, 7-10 hurricanes and 3-6 major hurricanes of Cat III intensity or stronger. Additionally, the season’s accumulated cyclone energy (ACE) index was 141 or 45% more active than it normally is at an ACE of 96.
This is the first year since records began being kept in 1851 to feature hurricanes with 111 mph winds or greater in five consecutive months. It began with a tropical storm that formed even before the hurricane season officially started on June 1, Arthur, and closed with the second-most powerful hurricane ever recorded in November, Paloma.
Major hurricanes Gustav, Ike and Paloma raked Cuba, while Haiti was devastated by four storms during August and September, which resulted in more than 800 deaths, with 530 deaths alone blamed on hurricane Hanna. Preliminary estimated losses around the region resulting from this very active 2008 Hurricane Season is of the order of US $54 billion.
Northern Central America including Belize felt the ravages of both the early-season tropical storm Arthur and late-season tropical depression No. 16. Out-of-season tropical storm Arthur evolved from the residual instability associated with the remnant low that was once eastern Pacific tropical storm Alma, on May 31, 2008. The center of the disturbance was located just offshore NE Belize and intensified into a tropical storm as it drifted inland over northern Belize and southern Yucatan. By dawn of June 1, 2008, Arthur was weakening to a remnant low over SE Mexico. However, the system produced torrential rains across Belize during the subsequent three days, which resulted in flooding over the Orange Walk and Corozal districts at first, then the devastating flashfloods in the North Stann Creek and Sittee River watersheds of the Stann Creek Districts during the early morning of June 2, 2008. Five persons lost their lives to the flashfloods in the Middlesex and Hope Creek areas of the lower Stann Creek Valley. The losses were estimated at about BZ $78 million.
Tropical depression No. 16 formed from an area of disturbed weather some 60 miles off the NE coast of Nicaragua on October 13, 2008. It drifted WNW just offshore the coast of NE Honduras during the next two days and then inland over the NE coast of Honduras on the morning of October 15, 2008. As the system drifted overland and interacted with the rugged terrain, it weakened to a remnant low and moved on a more westerly direction, reaching the western border between Honduras and Guatemala by October 16, 2008. During its odyssey overland the disturbance produced copious rainfall of the order of 21 inches over Baldy Beacon and 18 inches over Savannah during the period October 13-20, 2008.
Accumulated rainfall in excess of 20 inches was also recorded in many localities over western Honduras, central and northern Guatemala and SE Mexico. This resulted in extreme, widespread floods over the region. In Belize the Mopan, Macal, Belize, the Rio Hondo and New Rivers all, rose to near the record-setting, hurricane Keith stage. In excess of 110 communities or 16,400 persons were directly impacted by the floods in Belize and another five persons drown during the floods; two on the Sittee River near the Kendal bridge crossing, and three around the border village of Arenal on the Mopan River.
Hurricane experts attribute the very active 2008 Atlantic Basin Hurricane Season to the on-going atmospheric and oceanic conditions that have favored above-normal Atlantic Basin hurricane activity since 1995. This is referred to as the “multi-decadal signal”, which includes above-normal sea-surface temperatures in the eastern tropical Atlantic Ocean, along with the lingering effects of a La Niña or ENSO-neutral conditions in the tropical Pacific Ocean, and above average seas surface temperatures during the peak period of the hurricane season.
The hurricane season 2008 was indeed a challenging period for Belize. The flood events brought out the best of in our people and the country has learned many invaluable lessons. The unfortunate experience has energized the affected communities and will make Belizeans much more resilient to the negative impacts of future, extreme climatic events.
Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment
Belmopan - 30 November, 2008