|Hurricane season can be an exciting time in Los Cabos.
Beach After Guillermo!
Hurricanes rarely score direct hits, but on occasion they have blasted both the Sea of Cortez and Pacific coasts of Baja. Near-misses are not uncommon, and tropical storms can drop a foot or two of rain in a matter of hours. Storms may be hundreds of miles away, but their powerful “chubasco” winds generate spectacular ocean waves. Tourists and locals alike turn out for the show, and surfers fly to Los Cabos.
Hurricanes can strike at any time of year, but most occur from May through November. Most of those are in August and September, when the ocean waters that fuel the storms reach their warmest temperatures.
Baja storms usually form off the west coast of southern Mexico, over the warm waters of the eastern Pacific, south of Baja and west of Acapulco. The prevailing summer easterlies carry most storms westward toward Hawaii. But, sometimes a big storm will stray to the north, threatening the Baja Peninsula, the Sea of Cortez and mainland Mexico.
Hurricane Juliette, the most devastating storm in years, ravaged Los Cabos during the last week of September, 2001. Thousands were left homeless, and the area suffered millions of dollars in damage. Luckily, only one life was lost locally, and a major relief effort prevented what might have been a far greater tragedy. Resorts suffered mostly minor damage, although tourists were stranded for days before roads and the Los Cabos airport were reopened, and at least one golf course literally washed away.
Days of torrential rains washed out major roads and bridges throughout southern Baja. High winds destroyed power lines and buildings, and violent waves trashed docks and boats, wiped out beachfront businesses and left beaches without sand. Water, power and phone lines were out for weeks in some areas, and crews were still repairing roads and bridges months later. However, the resilient Los Cabos vacation industry was soon back in full swing, sand returned to the beaches and tourists were soon again sipping margaritas, partying, fishing and basking in the sunshine.
In September, 1999, Hurricane Greg parked itself over Los Cabos before blowing itself out. Fortunately, Greg was a minimal hurricane, and its calm eye settled over Los Cabos as it lost strength, so damage from wind and rain was not severe.
In September, 1998, the center of Tropical Storm Isis passed a few miles east of San José del Cabo, drenching the Los Cabos region with ten to fifteen inches of rainfall overnight. Flooding and landslides damaged roads and buildings, and claimed at least two lives. Major power and water lines were knocked out, and dozens of vehicles were buried in sand and mud. The aqueduct that provides fresh water for Cabo San Lucas required two weeks to repair, and tanker trucks and airplanes hauled emergency drinking water. Isis became a hurricane as it crossed the Sea of Cortez and slammed into the Los Mochis area on the mainland, where it claimed another dozen lives.
1997 was an exceptional hurricane year. Fueled by record-warm El Niño waters, Hurricane Guillermo in August was the most powerful storm ever recorded in the eastern Pacific, passing close enough to cause surf damage along the southern Baja coast. A month later, Hurricane Linda became the most powerful storm ever recorded in the northern hemisphere, brushing within 300 miles of Los Cabos with record-breaking 220+ mph winds. Cabo escaped with only some flooding and giant waves. A week later, Hurricane Nora barely missed southern Baja, curved north along the Pacific coast, crossed northern Baja, and severely damaged the town of San Felipe before carrying high winds and flooding to the southwestern U. S. Finally, Hurricane Pauline devastated Acapulco and the mainland Pacific coast of Mexico, leaving hundreds dead and thousands homeless before losing steam as it neared Los Cabos.
In September, 1996, Hurricane Fausto brought high winds, flooding, property damage and one death to Los Cabos as it brushed the tip of the Baja Peninsula before taking a sharp right turn. The eye of the storm crossed the peninsula from Todos Santos to La Paz, some 50 to 100 miles north of Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo, then crossed the Sea of Cortez and headed for Texas. Fortunately, Fausto was a relatively weak hurricane, and serious damage was minimal. Nonetheless, its remnants caused flooding as far away as Texas and the Mississippi Valley.
In November,1993, a tropical storm dumped two feet of rain on Los Cabos in 24 hours. Severe flooding resulted, washing out major highways and bridges, and generally devastating the region. Homes built in recent years in long-dry arroyos were swept out to sea by walls of water crashing down from the mountains. At least a dozen lives were lost. Some veterans of the storm claim the toll was much higher.
Today, it is easier to prepare for severe storms, thanks to satellite imagery, advanced weather science and the recent arrival of the Internet in Los Cabos. But, Mother Nature is still boss.