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August 2010
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Chances of a Hurricane

Forecasters announced today that they think there is a 75% chance of a major hurricane hitting the United States coast this year. The water temperatures are warm, and the first named storm hit the Yucatan Peninsula in late June… they named it Alex.

You may have noticed that Alex did a lot of damage to cities in and around Monterrey, Mexico but you probably didn’t notice that there wasn’t any news, bad or otherwise, about Alex and his affect on the Yucatan. Because the homes of Merida and the Yucatan Peninsula rarely have to weather that kind of storm. The rule of thumb in the Yucatan is that a hurricane hits once every fifteen years. That’s far less than most places that ring the Gulf of Mexico, including the resort communities on the Mayan Riviera. And it may be why Merida was built in this location over 500 years ago by the Mayans. It’s inland location affords it protection from the worst effects of a hurricane, which diminishes as it travels over land, and the building practices here provide even more.

Many of the Yucatan’s homes are built either out of block or stone or both. If you see wood in a home, it is being used as beams, as a sunscreen or as decoration. Anything structural is heavily reinforced and able to withstand both wind and rain. Roof and garden drainage should always be considered when building or renovating a home, because tropical rains can drop a lot of water in a short amount of time. But with proper drainage, reinforced stone or block walls and tile or cement floors, the homes here are built to withstand just about anything Mother Nature can dole out in the hurricane department.

In 2002, Hurricane Isidore swept right over Merida and Progreso on the coast. While there was flooding in Progreso, and some wave action that damaged unreinforced homes, the damage was minute compared to Monterrey’s recent tropical storm, and especially compared to the effects of Hurricanes Rita or Katrina in recent years.  I think those who lived through it would agree that the biggest casualty of Hurricane Isidore were the trees; quite a few older trees were blown over during the twenty four hours that Isidore stayed in Merida. But the minute the storm was done, the local Mexican army came out in droves to clear the roads, chopping and clearing trees. And now, nine years later, the trees are back, bigger and better than ever.

Hurricanes are something to keep in mind when you are building or buying in the Yucatan, but they are not something to be afraid of.  Builders and architects here know how to build for hurricane weather, and the ancient Mayans knew where to put their cities. Even at the beach, modern construction has improved and gotten smarter, and longer setbacks and seawalls are required in many communities.  Hurricanes give plenty of warning and can be prepared for (unlike earthquakes and many other natural disasters). If you are lucky enough to buy an old colonial house here in Merida, you can be reassured that it has already withstood a few hurricanes.

We sleep soundly at night here, even in hurricane season.

For more information, here is the article about the recent hurricane forecast.