Weather Nerd

Deadly flooding strikes Central America

Even as an early winter pattern largely shuts down the Atlantic hurricane season, with little threat of further hurricane activity in the U.S., areas closer to the equator remain at risk of death and destruction, including from weak, nameless systems. Take Tropical Depression 16 and “Invest 91L,” which have combined to reak havoc on Central America with their heavy rains:

A week of heavy rains over northern Honduras, northern Guatemala, and Belize due to Tropical Depression Sixteen and a Western Caribbean tropical disturbance (91L) have resulted in record flooding and deadly mudslides across the region. In Honduras, a nationwide state of emergency has been declared, and at least eleven people are dead and two missing from the flooding. Two large landslides blocked the Coyol River in western Honduras yesterday, forming a lake 500 feet deep. Engineers are attempting to drain the lake today, but they won’t be helped by the weather–91L promises to move little the next two days, and will continue to dump heavy rains on the region. In Belize, damage is already estimated in the ten of millions, and some areas are seeing flooding worse than was experienced during Hurricanes Mitch and Keith. In northern Guatemala, at least 70 towns have been cut off by flood waters and a state of emergency has been declared. Satellite estimates suggest up to a foot of rain has fallen over the region in the past week.

That write-up is from Dr. Jeff Masters, who adds (and the NHC concurs) that “91L” is very unlikely to develop — it’s too close to land, and wind shear is too high. But that hardly matters to the people in the affected regions. Even a nameless, undesignated tropical disturbance can cause massive destruction in vulnerable areas, and this one is doing just that.

Eventually, 91L will move away from Central America and head toward Florida, though by then its tropical potential should be gone entirely:

A trough of low pressure swinging across the Midwest U.S. should be able to start pulling 91L northward or northwestward by Thursday. Once 91L enters the Gulf of Mexico on Thursday, the trough should swing the storm to the northeast, bringing it across the west coast of Florida between Tampa and the Big Bend region on Friday night. Wind shear will be very high over the Gulf of Mexico this week, in the 30-40 knot range, and 91L is expected to make a transition to a very wet extratropical storm by Friday. The storm should bring sustained winds of 30-35 mph and heavy rains of 2-3 inches to Florida.

In other news, a Houston Chronicle report out today reveals that Hurricane Ike damaged more than half of Houston’s 2,000 apartment complexes. The Chronicle also has a section on its website devoted to Ike’s missing.

Finally, on an almost entirely unrelated note, check out these amazing photos and videos of the Sun, courtesy of the Boston Globe‘s excellent “The Big Picture” blog. (Hat tip: Eric Berger.)