Hurricane Season In Belize.
Hurricane season in Belize is from June 1st to November 30th. While the most severe weather is typically in the later half of the season, June is the time when residents prepare and vigilantly watch the weather patterns forming in and around the Caribbean. Belize has only experienced direct hits from 5 major hurricanes (Category 2 or above) and one category 1 since 1900. However, history reminds us to be prepared for what seems to be the inevitable. This is not to say visitors shouldn’t come during this time, weather prediction has become much better in Belize meaning surviving these tropical storms is simply a matter of due diligence, knowledge, and of course proper preparation which I will go into a bit more later in this post.
History of Hurricane season in Belize.
On September 10, 1931 Belize was hit by a Category 4 hurricane which remains the worst in documented history. 2500 were killed and about half of the homes in the Yarborough settlement near Belize City were destroyed. The main reasons that this was the worst was due to a few contributing factors. First there were no weather prediction services in Belize at that time, secondly little was known by the public at that time of the dangers of these tropical storms. As the sea receded many ran to witness the phenomenon not realizing that the sea would surge back, which it did killing several hundred that day. These factors combined with the timing of the storm that hit during St. George’s Caye Day celebrations, people received little warning of the impending disaster.
On September 28, 1955 Hurricane season in Belize brought more death and destruction. Janet struck near Corozal destroying that town, leaving only about ten homes in her wake as she moved on to destroy the neighboring town of Chetumal in Mexico. Janet a category 5 recorded winds in excess of 175 mph. Janet also brought excessive rain, many places in Belize recorded more than 24 inches of rainfall in 72 hours causing severe flooding. Janet was responsible for as many as 3000 deaths.
On October 31, 1961 Hurricane Hattie another Category 5 recorded winds of 160 mph with gusts up to 200 mph. Hattie made a direct hit on the then capital bringing with her a storm surge 13 – 15 feet higher than normal tide levels that totally destroyed Belize City. Hattie was responsible for about 400 deaths and left 1000’s homeless. Many of the residents of Belize City were evacuated and rebuilt in what is now known as Hattieville. Also after Hurricane Hattie Belize’s capital was moved inland and rebuilt on the higher grounds of Belmopan.
On September 19, 1978 Hurricane Greta just made Category 4 status with sustained winds of 130 mph. While her winds downed many trees along the coast, her high storm surge resulted in very little flooding inland. Greta hit the land in Dangriga where it quickly became a tropical depression but not before destroying or damaging just over 100 homes in that town, as well as, the town’s main hospital. All in all Greta caused about BZ$ 50 million in damages. But as a result of better public knowledge and awareness of hurricanes, and also as a result of much better weather forecasting within Belize only four deaths were recorded.
On October 8, 2001 Hurricane season in Belize saw Iris as she ripped ashore on the southern coast of Belize between Monkey River Town and Independance, just southwest of Belize City. Iris was a category 4 with recorded winds of 140 mph. Iris is considered the most destructive of Belize’s hurricanes as she reportedly left more than 13,000 people homeless. In some areas 90% of the buildings including schools and community centers had sustained significant damage. Most of the food stocks and all of the countries standing crops of rice, cacao, coffee, bananas, corn, and papaya had been destroyed. In addition the downed power lines interrupted power creating a significant health risk as pump delivered water supplies ceased to flow. In addition, if the mass devastation was not enough, what made Iris particularly devastating was that she hit while Belize was still rebuilding just one year after Hurricane Keith had caused $200 million dollars in damages throughout the country.
On October 27, 2010 Hurricane Richard was the last hurricane to hit Belize. Richard only a category 1 with sustained winds of 90 mph came ashore about 20 miles south of Belize City. It proceeded to travel through the City and then continued through the center of Belize impacting Belize, Cayo, and Orange Walk districts. Richard included in it’s path the new capital Belmopan which had generally been considered the safest haven from hurricanes. When the storm cleared Richard had left most of the country without power and damages amounting to almost BZ$ 50 million.
Four other hurricanes should be noted, and although they did not hit Belize directly, they caused significant damage as they ripped along the coast. Mitch in 1998, Keith in 2000, Chantal in 2001, and Dean in 2007.
Things to know and Expect during Hurricane Season in Belize.
- Be aware of the strength of impending hurricanes as described by the “Saffir-Simpson Hurricane” Scale.
Tropical Storm (39-73 mph)
Category 1 (74-95 mph)
Category 2 (96-110 mph)
Category 3 (111-129 mph)
Category 4 (130-156 mph)
Category 5 (157> mph)
- Flag Signals (Belize has a four-flag warning system)
Preliminary Alert (red flag) – Hurricane may threaten within 72 hours.
Red I Watch (1 red flag with dot) – Hurricane may threaten within 36 hours.
Red II Warning (2 red flags with dots) – Hurricane may threaten within 24 hours.
All Clear (green flag) – Hurricane has passed.
- Expect Evacuation of Island, Coastal, and Flood Prone Areas will Occur.
As people move from these areas to the inland mountainous areas like Cayo and Belmopan City, highways may become congested, so leave early and be near the front of the line.
- Expect Flooding.
Belize is noted for it’s many flood prone areas, talk to the locals about your area and expect that as the rains intensify, many streets may/will be flooded.
- Expect Supermarkets To Be Crowded Until They Run Out Of Stock.
Grocery stores will be filled with residents trying to stock up on last minute items such as food, protection equipment in the form of shutters, plywood, tie down materials, etc. The practice of price gouging is illegal but still common and should be expected as vendors take advantage of the law of supply and demand.
- Expect Businesses & Schools To Be Closed.
Expect most businesses to close shop 24 hours before the hurricane hits as workers prepare their homes or evacuate some areas. Schools and other large institutions require more time to prepare and can be expected to close 48 hours before an impending strike.
- Expect Evacuation Shelters To Be Open.
Shelters are public, but expect that most will require ID and documentation with your address to enter. If you fear that your lodging may not be adequate to withstand the impact of the impending hurricane and it’s winds, rains, and related flooding, you will want to locate your shelter(s). Each area should have one or several hurricane shelters. know where yours is and be prepared to go.
- Expect Increased Military & Police Presence.
Expect to see an increase in Activity by local police departments and the Belize Military (Belize Defence Force – BDF) as officers are dispatched to ensure smooth evacuation procedures, as well as, to prevent looting and other illegal activities that often occur during these times of distress.
- Expect Flights To Be Cancelled.
Expect most international flights and many domestic flights to be grounded or cancelled on the day of the expected hurricane. As a result expect other forms of tranportation such as water taxis to become crowded with people who have waited until the last minute to evacuate. Again, leave as early as resonably possible. It is better to be waiting in safety a little longer rather than still fleeing for your life when the storm does hit.
Tips to help in preparing for the hurricane season in Belize:
These tips should not be left until the last minute. I recommend a cupboard for non perishable food supplies to be stocked immediately so that last minute shopping may be avoided (just be sure to watch those expiry dates). Have a mini check list and I recommend a backpack(s) that can be quickly filled with items you will want to take with you in case of evacuation, items such as important documents, clothing, communication equipment, etc.
According to the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA), here are some tips to help you prepare for the hurricane season in Belize:
- Have stock of non-perishable food and drinking water (enough for at least 5 days), including special foods needed for young children and animals.
- Make arrangements for pets & livestock.
- Have a flashlight with extra batteries, or candles.
- Have portable battery operated radio with extra batteries to keep in touch with the outside world should power be lost.
- Have your first aid kit stocked and ready and keep extra stock of required medications (again, watch those expiry dates).
- Find out ahead of time which is your emergency shelter along with it’s exact location.
- Have good quality shoes ready in case you need to get out and walk.
- Have cash on hand. ATM’s may not work, and banks may not open if the power is interrupted.
- Protect your windows, doors. and other glass structures from flying debris.
- Trim branches (or coconuts) that might break free, also remove all objects from your yard that are likely to become flying hazards. including if possible, communication equipment such as TV and radio antennas, as well as, satellite dishes.
- Develop & have available an emergency communication plan.
- Fuel up your car and stock extra fuel if you have a generator, gas (Kerosene) lamps, or gas powered tools for clean up after the storm.
- Store all valuable documents/papers in waterproof bags high off the ground.
- Check your home and auto insurance.