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One of Puerto Vallarta’s Worst Disasters of This Century

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Hurricane
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The local papers this past week reported on an announcement from the Mexican weather service that residents of Mexico’s Pacific Coast could expect as many as 10 named hurricanes this year. The story ignited images in my brain of one of Puerto Vallarta’s worst disasters of this century.

The weather service said between 7 and 10 of the named systems this season would be tropical storms, 3 to 5 would be category 1 or 2 hurricanes and another four to five hurricanes would be categories 3 to 5.

I grew up in the Rocky Mountains and lived most of my adult life in Denver and the San Francisco Bay Area before finding my place in paradise. Hurricanes were not top of mind until I experienced my first one shortly before moving full-time to Puerto Vallarta in 2002. It’s an experience I will never forget.

Local news had predicted that Hurricane Kenna would gain strength and metastasize into a full-blown category 5 as it approached landfall. As with most hurricanes, pinpointing exactly where it will strike the coast is not exact science.

My home in Mismaloya, about 7 miles south of Puerto Vallarta, was on a hillside above Mismaloya Cove. Importantly, the living room had a palapa roof and many glass ocean-facing doors and windows. The big blow barreling out of the south was a frightening prospect.

Warm sea conditions strengthened Kenna to peak winds of 165 mph as it blew north from the coast of Oaxaca. Veterans of previous hurricanes assured us that most bounce off the southern tip of the Bay of Banderas – the largest bay in Mexico – and rapidly move on to strike farther north, which Kenna did, but not before wreaking devastation on Vallarta.

Kenna’s winds sideswiped the city, beginning about six in the morning and continuing for about four hours or so. Our windows were not blown out and the palapa roof, remarkably, remained intact. But Kenna’s story in Vallarta was not wind, but its storm surge.

Towering waves nearly 20 ft. high pounded beaches and flooded the commercial districts downtown, depositing piles of sand in the lobbies of beach-front hotels and causing significant damage to homes and businesses in all of the low-lying areas of the city.

Cabo Corrientes, which is the southern tip of the Bay of Banderas, saved us from the very worst of Kenna, which San Blas, about 100 miles north of Vallarta, received. It struck that coastal city with sustained winds over 140 mph, killed four people and destroyed thousands of homes and businesses.

Btw, did you know that the guys who make a living from studying hurricanes analyzed data from the second half of the 20th century and concluded that the probability of a hurricane landfall is two-and-a-half times greater on the Pacific Coast than the Gulf/Caribbean Coasts? I didn’t either.

With climate change continuing to warm the oceans of the world, this century might test the reflective powers of Cabo Corrientes. If you live in Vallarta or are visiting during the hurricane season, which is generally June through October, spend a little time to find out what to do during a hurricane. You just may need it this year.

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