DISCUSSION: As far as tropical cyclone records across the Atlantic Ocean are concerned, Hurricane Mitch will go down as one of the more historic tropical cyclones of all time with respect to collective impacts. Just 18 years and three days ago, Hurricane Mitch reached it maximum intensity as a Category 5 hurricane just to the east of the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico and parts of eastern Central America. Attached below is the collective summary the storm's evolution from a meteorological standpoint for everyone's interests (courtesy of the NWS National Hurricane Center).
"The origins of Mitch can be traced back to a tropical wave that moved across the southern portion of west Africa on 8/9 October. The wave crossed the west coast of Africa on 10 October and progressed across the tropical Atlantic for the next seven days with west-southwesterly upper-level winds preventing significant development. After moving through the eastern Caribbean Sea between the 18th and 19th, satellite pictures showed an organizing cloud pattern over the south-central Caribbean Sea on the 20th. Shower and thunderstorm activity continued to become better organized in the southwest Caribbean Sea as of early on the 21st. The system became a tropical depression at 0000 UTC 22 October, about 360 miles south of Kingston, Jamaica. The depression moved slowly westward and strengthened to a tropical storm later that day, about 225 miles east-southeast of San Andres Island, while moving in a cyclonic loop. By the 23rd, the intensification of Mitch was disrupted by westerly vertical wind shear associated with an upper-level low north-northwest of the tropical cyclone.
Later on the 23rd, the upper low weakened, the shear diminished, and Mitch began to strengthen while moving slowly northward. Mitch became a hurricane at 0600 UTC 24 October while located about 255 miles south-southwest of Kingston, Jamaica. Later that day, as it turned toward the west, Mitch began a period of rapid intensification. During a 24 hour period beginning on the afternoon of the 24th, its central pressure dropped 52 mb, dropping it down to 924 mb. With a symmetric, well-established upper-tropospheric outflow pattern evident on satellite imagery, the hurricane continued to strengthen. On the afternoon of the 26th, the central pressure reached a minimum of 905 mb, th while the cyclone was centered about 50 miles southeast of Swan Island. This pressure is the fourth lowest ever measured in an Atlantic hurricane, tied with Hurricane Camille in 1969.
This is also the lowest pressure ever observed in an October hurricane in the Atlantic basin. Prior to Mitch, the strongest measured hurricane in the northwest Caribbean was Hurricane Hattie in 1961 with a central pressure of 924 mb. At its peak on the 26th, Mitch’s maximum sustained 1-minute surface winds were estimated to be 155 knots, a category 5 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale. After passing over Swan Island on 27 October, Mitch began to gradually weaken while moving slowly westward. It then turned southwestward and southward toward the Bay Islands off the coast of Honduras. The center passed very near the island of Guanaja as a category 5 hurricane, although it is unlikely that winds of that strength were experienced on the island. Mitch slowly weakened as its circulation interacted with Honduras. From mid-day on the 27th, to early on the 29th, the central pressure rose 59 mb. The center of the hurricane meandered near the north coast of Honduras from late on the 27th through the 28th, before making landfall during the morning of the 29th about 70 miles east of la Ceiba with estimated surface winds of 70 knots and a minimum central pressure of 987 mb.
After making landfall, Mitch moved slowly southward, then southwestward and westward, over Honduras, weakening to a tropical storm by 1800 UTC 29 October, and to a tropical depression by 1800 UTC 31 October. The overall motion was slow, less than 4 knots, for a week. This resulted in a tremendous amount of rainfall, estimated at up to 35 inches, primarily over Honduras and Nicaragua. The heavy rainfall resulted in flash floods and mudslides that killed thousands of people. It is noted that a large east-west mountain range, with peaks approaching 10,000 feet, covers this part of Central America and this terrain likely contributed to the large rainfall totals. Some heavy rains also occurred in other portions of Central America. Although Mitch’s surface circulation center dissipated near the Guatemala/Mexico border on 1 November, the remnant circulation aloft continued to produce locally heavy rainfall over portions of Central America and eastern Mexico for the next couple of days.
By the afternoon of 2 November, meteorologists at the Tropical Prediction Center/National Hurricane Center (NHC) Tropical Analysis and Forecast Branch (TAFB), and the Satellite Analysis Branch (SAB) of the National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service began to follow a cloud-system center, the remnants of Mitch, in satellite imagery over the Bay of Campeche. Shower and thunderstorm activity began to increase later on the 2nd. On 3 November, a low-level circulation became evident in the eastern Bay of Campeche. Soon after, advisories were re-initiated on Tropical Storm Mitch located about 130 miles southwest of Merida, Mexico. Mitch moved northeastward and weakened to a depression early on the 4th after it made landfall over the northwestern Yucatan peninsula. The center re-emerged over the south-central Gulf of Mexico by mid-morning on the 4th, and Mitch regained tropical storm strength. The storm began to accelerate northeastward as it became involved with a frontal boundary moving through the eastern Gulf of Mexico. Mitch made landfall on the morning of 5 November in southwest Florida near Naples, with estimated maximum sustained winds of 55 knots. Mitch continued to move rapidly northeastward and by mid-afternoon of the 5th, before transitioning into an extratropical cyclone across the North Atlantic Ocean between the 6th and the 9th.
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~Meteorologist Jordan Rabinowitz