Why the Strongest Hurricane on Record Was No ‘Catastrophe’

تم النشر: 8 ديسمبر 2015 20:13 CET

By: Roop Singh

At its peak Hurricane Patricia was the strongest hurricane every recorded in the eastern Pacific packing maximum sustained wind speeds of an astonishing 320 kph. To put that into perspective, the Saffir-Simpson scale used to classify hurricanes defines anything above 250 kph as Category 5, or the highest rating at which “catastrophic damage” will occur.

Thankfully, the catastrophic damage did not materialize for 3 key reasons:

1. Patricia was unusually compact – the highest Category 5 wind speeds were concentrated in a 25km diameter band around its centre, the hurricane-force winds only extended about 55km from the centre.

2. We got lucky – the hurricane made landfall in a very sparsely populated area largely missing the major population centres in the resort down of Puerto Vallarta, and the port city of Manzanillo

3. Excellent preparation – The local, state, and national government along with the Mexican Red Cross acting in its role as auxiliary to government coordinated an effective preparedness plan that included evacuation, alerts to local populations, and pre-positioning of humanitarian aid in anticipation of response. 

In the BRACED context, the successful preparedness based on climate information enacted in Mexico is the most interesting because it gives us insight into what strengthening resilience against extreme events to prevent disasters can look like on the ground.

The Mexican Red Cross says it acted during 3 key phases through analysis, anticipation, and timely and immediate response. Based on forecasts they established a preparedness plan that began 3 days prior to the forecasted landfall. This plan included mobilizing up to 500 volunteers to preposition and distribute 30 thousand kilos of humanitarian aid to the populations predicted to be in the path of the hurricane.

Volunteers also assisted in evacuating people, setting up emergency units, which included mobile hospitals, a rescue unit and a logistics vehicle. To fund the massive operation, the Mexican Red Cross opened a funding website, and connected with the private sector by using Wal-mart stores nationwide as collection centers. They also disseminated information about the Hurricane forecast, preparedness before and after landfall, and ways to donate food, money and toiletries.

One of the foremost difficulties many families face during a natural disaster is the loss of contact between family members. Anticipating this, the Mexican Red Cross took action through the Restoring Family Links program by allowing family members in other states and abroad to apply for this support via their website. They also set up an emergency phone number for responding to emergency and answering queries for information.

All of these anticipatory actions culminated in very few injuries and deaths that were far from the catastrophe that could have happened if the government and humanitarian agencies had not acted on the Hurricane Patricia forecast. Not only did the Mexican Red Cross prepare for potential disaster, they also aided in the response to areas that had been damaged by Patricia by mobilizing nearly 3000 of their volunteers to assess damage in the states of Jalisco and Colima mere hours after landfall. They continued to disseminate information after the hurricane about how to ensure people’s houses were safe to return to. This comprehensive strategy undoubtedly helped prevent Hurricane Patricia from transitioning from mere climate extreme to disaster. 

This article was a joint effort from the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Center, Mexican Red Cross and the IFRC, and it is part of the Reality of Resilience initiative. To read the original article and additional information visit the Hurricane Patricia in Mexico page.