Southern Baja Hurricane History and Facts

BY: RICK CASTAGNER

In recent years, fears have grown about the potential danger posed to Southern Baja by the Baja California hurricane season. This article provides a general insight into hurricanes and a look at recent Southern Baja hurricane history.

Baja California Hurricane Season

The Baja Peninsula lies on the periphery of the East Pacific hurricane track. This means it is susceptible to hurricanes as they move northwest along the peninsula. This north-westerly movement means that tropical cyclones tend to happen mainly at sea. So most, but not all, hurricanes in the Eastern Pacific basin do not make landfall. Sadly, those that do will hit Baja California Sur.

While the East Pacific hurricane season begins on May 15 and runs through to November 30, no recorded hurricanes have ever made landfall on the Baja California Peninsula during May and November, or during any month that falls outside of the Baja California hurricane season.

It’s also worth remembering that stormy weather is much more common in Baja California Sur than in the North of the Peninsula.

For example, from 1951-2000 only 1 hurricane and 3 tropical storms hit the land in northern Baja. Whereas, in Baja California Sur, during the same period, 19 hurricanes and 30 tropical storms hit land, a bit of a difference.

The majority of hurricanes that occur in the Eastern Pacific Basin expend their hurricane-force strength out at sea. Eastern Pacific hurricanes tend to be smaller and slower moving than their Atlantic and Western Pacific cousins, and typically, the hurricane-force storm conditions of a Baja California hurricane only extend 15-20 miles from its eye. It is not uncommon that while a hurricane is lashing one area of the peninsula, you will encounter little more than a breeze and a touch of light rain afflicting areas as little as 50 miles away.

An average of 16 storms pass over the Baja peninsula during the Baja California hurricane season, and of those 16, typically only 3-4 range with enough strength to achieve hurricane classification. This does not mean that some of these other storms, called tropical storms or depressions, cannot be very dangerous.

A recent history of the major Hurricanes and Tropical Storms in Los Cabos Area

Sept. 1, 2017: Tropical Storm Lidia

Tropical Storm Lidia flooded streets and homes, stranded tourists and left at least four people dead as it lashed resorts and cities on Mexico’s Southern Baja California Peninsula with winds upwards of 65 mph (105 km/h) and very heavy rains.

Sept. 6, 2016: Hurricane Newton

Brought very heavy rains and winds upwards of 90 mph (150 km/h) to the southern areas of the peninsula.

Sept. 13, 2014: Hurricane Odile

Was the most intense hurricane to make landfall over the Baja California Peninsula in the satellite era. Hurricane Odile casts a long shadow over Cabo San Lucas hurricane history. At the peak of its intensity, Odile measured as a category 4 hurricane. As Odile moved over Los Cabos, the city’s weather station recorded winds of 90 mph (140 km/h) with gusts of 117 mph (188 km/h).

The destruction Odile wrought was some of the worst in Baja California hurricane history. The hurricane’s strength and sudden emergence resulted in the canceling of all flights in and out of Cabo San Lucas, La Paz, Los Cabos, and Loreto airports, and 26,000 tourists were consequently left stranded on the Baja peninsula. In Baja California Sur, 239,000 people were left without electricity. The supply of fresh drinking water was cut throughout the entire state. A third of the area’s crops were devastated. A total of 1,800 homes were destroyed and a further 8,200 were damaged. Almost all hotels in the south of the Baja peninsula sustained some level of damage. Odile claimed the lives of five people on the Baja peninsula and the total cost of the damage was estimated to be MXN$16.6 billion (US$1.25 billion).

Oct. 15-18, 2012: Hurricane Paul

A major hurricane brought landslides and flooding to the Baja California Peninsula. Damage to roads was estimated at MX$200 million (US$15.5 million). Approximately 580 families reported property damage. Many homes across the region were left without electricity and running water.

Sept. 28, 2012: Tropical Storm Norman

Brought extremely heavy rains to the southern portion of the peninsula.

Sept. 2, 2009: Hurricane Jimena

Hurricane Jimena ties Norbert's short-lived record as one of the most intense hurricanes to make landfall on the Pacific side of the peninsula. Prior to the arrival of Jimena, civil defense authorities in Los Cabos announced that they would have to evacuate 20,000 families from their homes. The storm later caused widespread flooding and damage and killed one person. Damage from the storm amounted to MXN$800 million (US$59.8 million). A total of 35,000 people were reported to have been left homeless.

Oct. 11, 2008: Hurricane Norbert

Hurricane Norbert became the strongest hurricane to hit the western side of the Peninsula. Two towns were nearly completely damaged, with heavy flooding and storm surge reported. Officials estimated that damages from the hurricane were MXN 8.8 billion ($650 million). The worst damage occurred in the municipality of Comondu, where 16,000 residents reported damage to their homes.

Aug. 25, 2008: Tropical Storm Julio

Makes landfall on the peninsula, causing flooding that kills one person.

Sept. 2, 2006: Hurricane John

Made landfall on the peninsula. Winds and rain caused heavy damage throughout the peninsula. John killed five people. Damage in Mexico amounted to $663 million (2006 MXN, $60.8 million 2006 USD).

Sept. 15, 2004: Hurricane Howard

Outer rainbands from Hurricane Howard produced heavy rainfall.

Sept. 22, 2004: Hurricane Marty

Made landfall near San Jose del Cabo. A total of 4,000 houses were destroyed with disruption to boats in the area. The hurricane was responsible for significant flooding and storm surges. Five deaths were reported and 6,000 people were affected. Total damage from the storm was $100 million.

Aug. 25, 2003: Hurricane Ignacio

Made landfall on the peninsula. Heavy rains caused a flood that swept two rescue workers to their deaths.

Sept. 30, 2001: Tropical Storm Juliette

It caused damage and heavy rainfall throughout the peninsula. Cabo San Lucas was "clobbered," and was cut off from the rest of Mexico for several days. Juliette caused two deaths. A maximum of 39.8 in (1,010 mm) of rain fell in Caudano, the highest known total ever recorded from a tropical storm in the state.

Vacationing During Baja California Hurricane Season

The Baja California hurricane season is wet, hot, generally overcast, muggy, and, as the name suggests, carries the risk of hurricanes. As a result, the Baja California hurricane season is the quietest time of year on the Southern Baja tourist calendar. 

The upside of the Baja California Sur hurricane season; great prices, fewer people, the hurricanes are smaller than the West Atlantic or West Pacific hurricanes and are less in number. An intense hurricane like Odile usually only happens once a decade in Southern Baja.

There are many advantages to visiting Cabo San Lucas during hurricane season, but make sure you remain aware of the risks.