Revisiting Hurricane Mitch: Deadly storm that hit Central America in 1998

Tracking the Tropics

Source: NOAA, National Hurricane Center

HARLINGEN, Texas (KVEO) – As Hurricane Eta is off the Nicaraguan coast as a powerful category 4 storm, the situation is bringing flashbacks for many of Hurricane Mitch in 1998. Mitch ravaged Nicaragua and Honduras causing just over 9,000 deaths, making it the second deadliest Atlantic hurricane on record.

Mitch started out as a tropical wave that moved across west Africa. On October 10, 1998, the wave crossed the coast of west Africa and headed westward across the Atlantic Ocean toward the Caribbean Sea. On October 22, hurricane hunters flew into the disturbance and determined that the system was a tropical depression just south of Kingston, Jamaica.

By October 24, 1998 Mitch became a hurricane 255 nautical miles southwest of Kingston and began moving west. Passing over Swan Island on October 27 and slightly weakening, Mitch began moving southwestward toward the Bay Islands off the coast of Honduras. Mitch slowly moved near the north coast of Honduras for two days (October 27-28), officially making landfall 70 miles east of the La Ceiba, Honduras with winds at 80 mph.

Hurricane Mitch Track |Source: NOAA Historical Hurricane Tracks

Mitch weakened significantly after landfall but the motion of the storm system was very slow, moving less than 5 mph for a week straight. The slow movement caused close to 3 feet of rain to fall across Nicaragua and Honduras. This ultimately caused flash flooding and mudslides across the region, killing thousands.

CountryNumber of Deaths
Honduras5,677
Nicaragua2,863
Guatemala258
El Salavador239
Mexico9
Costa Rica7
United States2
Offshore – Crew from Ship Fantome31
Total Number of Deaths9086
Data from the U.S Agency for International Development and NOAA National Hurricane Center

Tropical Depression Mitch moved across El Salvador, Guatemala and southern Mexico, eventually taking a northeastward track over the Yucatan. Mitch reemerged as a tropical storm and impacted southwest Florida, claiming two more lives.

Click here for the latest on Hurricane Eta as it heads toward Central America.

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